Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World is written by the award-winning Cairo-based journalist Shereen El Feki explores in this account of a highly sensitive and still mainly hidden facet of the Arab world. Book questions the ability of the Arab world’s to adapt to a sexual and political revolution.
What makes this book such a treat to read is that it is a well researched book on sexuality as viewed from the Arab perspective through well detailed interviews, statistics, opinion polls, journalism and personal reminiscence. I really liked how the author’s grandmother pops up in most of chapters, haughtily dispensing pearls of proverbial wisdom: “So long as it’s away from my own ass, I don’t mind,” begins the chapter on homosexuality which leaves you because of how it was written in a tongue in cheek almost funny sort of way.. Despite being a breezy, what made this book such an amazing treatise is the attempts to connect social and sexual developments; which i felt really tiresome in parts.
Dr El Feki’s account of the sexuality is as seen from the perspective of a western-educated female Muslim, both insider and outsider (as she grew up in Canada, Feki is the daughter of an Egyptian father and Welsh mother), this book gives an invaluable perspective and a different kind of authority which is a rarity in books based on gender studies and sexuality.
As known, Arab countries, the customs and traditions are somewhat conservative where sex outside marriage is prohibited and looked upon as sin. It is common knowledge that often fatwas are issued against married couples being naked during sex. In 2009, a Saudi Arabian who made the mistake of discussing his sex life on a satellite TV programme was sentenced to a thousand lashings and five years in jail for “publicly boasting of sin”.
Sex and the Citadel is peppered with dismal and upsetting tales of inhumanity and ignorance. It will appall and anger Western readers. El Feki is optimistic in believing that a change will happen where sexuality will be respected and accepted. Whether it is or not is something that time will tell. Her account of Arab sexuality is a chilling account of the existing practices in easy to read, lucid way. What was otherwise a dark read is brightened by Fekis determination and undying hope that the rights to sexual privacy and liberty of erotic choices will be accepted in the Arab world. Whether her attempts are aired or discarded is something that time will prove.
I had a wonderful time reading this book. It is a wonderfully penned, thoroughly researched book that kept me gripped till the end. Gender studies and sexuality is something that has never been so comprehensively written before.
Pick this book up as it is a collectors item.
My Rating is a 4/5
This review is for Random House India; however the opinions expressed here are my own.