9. Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki
Shereen el Feki is an investigative journalist and academic who has done some excellent research and writing on the sexual practices of women and men throughout the Arab and Muslim world. She mostly focuses on Egypt, with forays into Morocco, Tunisia, the Gulf, and the Levant, but her strengths lie in writing on Egyptian sexuality. She does so fearlessly, with respect and knowledge of the cultural context, but with the drive and determination that comes from her status as an outsider/insider (she is half Welsh, half Egyptian).
El Feki’s writing has been featured in many places, but you can get a preview of her work on Muftah, and in an interview featured on NPR earlier in the year. Those pieces are pretty indicative of her work. If you’re intrigued, engrossed, or want to learn more, you should absolutely read this book.
Sex and the Citadel is well written, and can be read academically or for pleasure. El Feki’s background as a journalist serves her well and she writes with sound academic references, but in a style that grabs the reader’s attention. She starts off with sex toys and bored Egyptian housewives, but delves into complex identity issues, thoughts about marital fidelity, the age of consent, taboo sexual practices, growing issues of stability and political/economic links to home life, and eventually dips her toes into issues of homosexuality and gender identity in the MENA region.
El Feki links political stability, economic climate, and religious identity into larger discussions of sex, sexuality, and family politics, a perspective that is not frequently seen in academic and popular discussions of sex in the region. Some reviewers criticized the book for not being grounded enough in academic theory, for not backing up the theories that she starts off acknowledging. While I think this is true, it’s a work that is hard to dismiss – it’s interesting, well written, well researched, and provides a lot of new and missing perspectives in the voices on sex and sexuality in the Middle East.
I think I’m coming off harder on the book than I’ve meant to. If you’re interested in the topic of gender, sexuality, and the Middle East, you’ll have plenty to say about this book and about El Feki’s work. It’s provoking, and she creates a lot of space for dialogue, interaction, opposing opinions, and while being radical in her personal views, is sure to let other opinions shine in the work. It’s one of the better books I’ve read all year.