Sex and the Citadel cover

Review: “Sex and the Citadel” by Shereen El Feki

Thumbs up for Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki. Sociology.

First of all, let’s start with: what a brilliantly clever cover! This book, however, is done a disservice by the too-broad subtitle: you’d think that “the Arab World” would be represented by data drawn from many countries, but not so; 90% of the book concerns Egypt. And that’s all right, really, but don’t read it thinking that it’s more representative than it is. If you find the sexual mores of other cultures interesting this is a great book. Need I say, not for you if you are prudish or easily freaked out?

Haddad [female, Lebanese editor of a magazine the name of which translates to “Body”] is an unusual woman when it comes to sex, in that she openly says what she does, and vice versa. And this despite conservative roots. “I’ve been brought up in a Catholic school: you have sex just to have babies and that’s it. I should have had a whole country by now.” She laughs. She married twice, the first time when she was nineteen—her route to independence, she says. She had a relationship with the man who was to become her second husband before she was quite through with the first. “So I’d been living in ‘sin’ even before I’d got divorced. And even after I got divorced, I’ve been traveling everywhere with him, going to parties with him, socializing together like a couple. And people knew we were lovers. I loved it. We got married on a technicality.” Not surprisingly, her marriage is a little unusual. “We decided not to live together. We are both free-spirited. When I say this, people look at me as if I am coming from Mars. What kills a relationship is not only the decayed institution of marriage, but living together, the lack of breathing space, confusing love with ownership.”

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