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Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  414 ratings  ·  71 reviews
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

As the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath sweep streets and squares, parliaments and presidential palaces of the Middle East, Shereen El Feki—an award-winning Canadian-Egyptian journalist—has been looking at unrest a little closer to home: in the sexual lives of Arab men and women. The result is an informative, insightful, and engaging ac
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Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Anchor (first published 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,529)
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Toon
Having lived as a queer man in the Arab World, I was at first very enthusiastic to hear about this book, as little has been written on the topic. Unfortunately I found this book has many flaws.

The book should have been called "Intimate Muslim Women's Life in a Changing Egypt: My Personal Journey". Clearly, the scope of the book is too ambitious for several reasons:
I feel this book is much more about women's sexuality then men, presumably because the author is female which gives her easier acces
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Rebecca
I listened to Shereen El-Feki being interviewed on Fresh Air a few months ago and immediately put my name on the library waiting list that already had developed for this book. Sex and gender relations within the Arab/Muslim world has been sort of my pet academic interest during college, and I was INCREDIBLY excited to read a nuanced survey of the subject, especially post the Arab Spring.

I wasn't disappointed by the book at all. El-Feki's interviews are taking place during a unique time of uphea
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Karen.s
Shereen Feki, the daughter of an Egyptian man and a Welsh mother, looks at the connection between the expression of sexuality and the pursuit of freedom in general. She argues that Muslims were not always so sexually suppressed as they are today, but that the tyranny of dictatorship has used sexual repression within the patriarchal Middle Eastern societies as the most powerful tool of general suppression in their regimes. With all the changes that Middle Eastern societies have been going throug ...more
4ZZZ Book Club
We were joined by Shereen El Feki to talk about the impact of religion, the nature of virginity and the convenience of ‘pleasure marriages’. Originally broadcast on 21/03/2013, the podcast is available at zedbookclub.com.

Shereen El Feki is a writer, broadcaster and academic. She began her professional life with a doctorate in molecular immunology before going on to become an award-winning journalist with The Economist and a presenter with Al Jazeera English. She is the former vice-chair of the
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Greengambit
I have spent time living in and working across the Arab world, and Sex and the Citadel certainly deserves the rave reviews (see sexandthecitadel.com) that it has been getting around the world. It is balanced and informative without being preachy or Orientalist. Her background with one foot in the Arab world and one foot in the West shines through; it is also just a lot of fun to read.

Shereen also gave an inspiring presentation of her book to a packed auditorium at the Hay-on-Wye book festival!
Wilbur
A well intentioned work. More appropriate if it were condensed and published as an extensive article, not really book length. Frequently repetitive and tedious.
BooksAndTea
A mixed bag. I had been eager to read this after spotting it at the bookstore. El Feki has a hilarious introduction about discussing sex toys with some women and that had me hooked. Throughout the book she discusses different aspects of sexuality, gender and gender roles and other issues. However, the book is slightly misnamed. It's not really about those topics in the Arab world, as El Feki looks through the topics with the frame of Egypt and the Arab Spring specifically in Egypt, rather than a ...more
Andrew
Sexuality in the Arab world is, both in the eyes of westerners and often even Arab governments, something of an enigma. Sex and the Citadel is a piercing view, probably unique in the English language, into the private lives of Arab couples. Shereen El Feki, whose career spans Cambridge, the United Nations, and Al Jazeera, explodes popular myths about Arab marriage, dating, prostitution, and homosexuality always with a keen eye to the region's history and ongoing changes. Her storytelling through ...more
Hannah Emery
For Western readers, this book is an education in shifting cultural norms. One of el Feki's theses is that 100 years ago, the Middle East and the European West saw each other in the same broad stereotypes as they do now -- hopelessly sexually repressed and a hotbed of licentiousness -- but the labels were reversed. Until European colonialism, el Feki argues, sex and sexuality in the Islamic world were viewed in a much more relaxed light than they typically were in the West, but as the countries ...more
Barbara Trimpi
I can't believe I married an Egyptian without reading this book first! (Not my fault, I got married long before it was written...) It took me over 10 plus years living in Egypt to figure out the stuff in this book. I think it should be required reading for anyone (Egyptian or foreign) planning to live, work and/or fall in love in the Middle East.
When a friend loaned me her copy, I put it aside thinking it would be another depressing tale about abused women living in Egypt and the hopeless battle
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Kaj Peters
Tussen de eenzijdige berichtgeving rond religieus fundamentalisme en gewelddadige excessen in de moslimwereld is dit werk een baken van nuance. Shereen El-Feki weet onderwerpen uit de Arabische taboesfeer onder de aandacht te brengen, maar blijft daarbij respectvol naar opvattingen uit zowel het Oosten als het Westen. Zij kiest steeds voor een verzoenende positie waarbij ze hete hangijzers ondermijnt door met gedegen tegenargumenten te komen. In negatieve zin neigt het misschien naar politiek co ...more
Jeanpierre
Very good book, well researched, definite must for those who seek to understand the subtleties defining all types of relation within the framework of Islam as interpreted from a liberal to a very conservative and fundamentalist view.
Emanuel Ramos
Interesting look at sexuality in the Arab world. The book, for me, loses steam in the end. It's just so dense. So I can't totally recommend it, unless you're drawn to these sorts of topics. Or if you're a fan of The Economist.
Yaz
Well this book is definitely not one of my usuals but I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was recommended by the author of course, when I went to talk given by her at uni. There was a lo of history and some interesting information about the middle east in general. I would never have imagined mixing sex and arabs in the same sentence, let alone a whole book about it. And honestly, it is very true what Shereen talks about and the importance of sex when discussing or thinking about the logistics of arabs a ...more
Mandy
Author Shereen El Feki has written an informative, insightful and extremely readable account of sex in Arab society, a largely hidden and often misunderstood aspect of life in the Muslim world. The area is shrouded in mystery and secrecy and is inevitably a sensitive area to probe into. By using real contexts and situations, and by referring to sexuality in the region throughout history, this accessible sociological examination of all aspects of sexual attitudes and practices opens up a world ra ...more
Noha Sallam
A recommended read to anyone who wants to see further beyond the taboos of sex and sexuality in the Arab region. The book tackles many issues, not just the male/female intimate relationships. It talks about abortion rights, single mothers, sex workers, same sex relationships. All of those issues that have always been swept under the carpet in our region.

The book links the changes that are bound to take place in this arena with the broader changes taking place in the political arena. It talks ab
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Douglas Tatelman
Because of the authors heritage, this book is mostly about modern Egypt, with lessons for the entire Middle East. There are certainly open minded exceptions, which I am fortunate to know personally, but the overall picture of the masses is mostly correct.

How can something so beautiful as physical love become so perverted and painful? Chapter after chapter, I'm reading about people scarred and scared. Women punished and men totally confused about love and sex.

I first thought this book would give
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Laila Taji
El Feki is a good writer so it made the book an easy read in that sense. I struggled a bit with a few things. (1) She would often reference a verse from the Qur'an to show how actions or behaviors were potentially justified within the religious world. But at times she would say the verse was open to interpretation - yet the English translation had no ambiguity and she failed to explain the alternate interpretations. (2) While I loved, what I felt, was the point of the book, that you need basic h ...more
Kdorman
It seems that many are taking the launch of Shereen El Feki’s “Sex and the Citadel” as an excuse to push their own agenda. Having said that, let me hope I won’t do the same.

It seems appropriate to begin with this with quote from Rumi (جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى),

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”

Sex and the Citadel begins “Every journey across Cairo is a moving lesson in history.”(3) It is from this point that you are led through the historically name
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Irka
Let me quote : "'What is it?'Six pairs of dark eyes stared at me -or rather, at the small purple rod in my hand. 'It's a vibrator.' I answered, in English, racking my brain for the right Arabic word. 'A thing that makes fast movements' came to my mind, but as that could equally apply to a hand mixer, I decided to stick with my mother tounge to minimize what I could sense was rising confusion in the room..." or 'Azza's husband described how a discreet inquiry around the office reveled 20 of his c ...more
Vicky
This book is an honest sociological analysis of the issues of sex and relationships in the East. It is full of interesting facts, observation and insights into the intimate world of people in many Eastern countries. Here history meets modernity and fundamentalism fights the human nature, as it happened before in different countries through the ages. History, revolution and social issues are all play their role in a changing world of this region.
Jennifer Witt
Excellent book - as I often find with books and films that take a specific goal (in this case, examining sexuality post the Arab spring), you actually get a better beat on the state of democracy and society in Egypt than you would from a book about the state of democracy in Egypt. It definitely solidified for me the understanding that revolution is really not a political but psychological-social matter for Egyptians at this point and they will need time to work that out of their own, in their ow ...more
Desiree
Shereen El Feki grew up in Canada as the daughter of a Welsh mother and an Egyptian father. So there you find an author with Middle-Eastern roots and western values.

Through her Egyptian family doors opend to have an insight into the Arab bedrooms. Her book highlightens the hypocracy of arab (muslim and christian) society towards any kind of sexuality.

In her interviews she examins the ignorance of anatomy of sexual organs, describes haunting fates of hetero, - homosexuals and transgenders.

She fr
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Vanessa
Islam and the Arab world often get a lot of negative attention in Western media for social issues and women's rights - quoting the author: "When it comes to sexuality, the Arab world can seem like a citadel, an impregnable fortress whose outer face repels any perceived assault on the bastion of heterosexual marriage and family". All the more fascinating to read about all the cracks in those walls - the LGBT population, the Islam-approved workarounds for premarital sex, and more. We also get a se ...more
Jennifer
This book was exactly what I was looking for. I found it sitting by its lonesome on a library shelf and decided to take it home with me.

From a social perspective, I found the author performed a great service to people like me who like to study culture, especially in the regions of race, gender, and sexuality. Her unashamed examination of ancient texts, religious taboo and boundaries, as well as the sometimes graphic and frank exploration of average citizen's bedroom lives was extremely interest
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Lindsey
I was skeptical of this book because I thought the cover art was silly and then there's a Naomi Wolf endorsement on the back, but I found it enlightening and well-reasoned. The author makes several key points:
- It will be difficult for democracy to flourish on a political level if it cannot flourish on a private level in the home.
- The Arab world is largely focused on appearance rather than reality. "Virginity defined by anatomy, not chastity; sex tourism masquerading as marriage," etc.
-Social
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Indiabookstore
Did you know that the Ayatollah Khomeini approved sex change operations in the 1980s?

Or that many educated Arab women PREFER the status of second wife, as it enables them to pursue a career as well as be married?

Sex and the Citadel is full of such interesting factoids. For more, read http://www.indiabookstore.net/bookish...
Yvette
I enjoyed this book. I love short, sharp accounts of real life experiences; this book was littered with such accounts.

I would consider myself moderately aware of the personal challenges women face in the Arab world, (having spent a fair bit of time there), however, this book opened my eyes to a whole new world, most of which I was unaware of.

I found it a good book to read in parts. The chapters cover different angles of the sexual experiences Arab women face/enjoy/endure. I enjoyed reading a ch
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Roxanne Sami
I'm a little bit confused concerning rating this book.. Although a very profound study is not to be missed throughout the whole text, I found myself a little bit bored in many areas, uncomfortable in some parts and shocked in another. I think "El-Feki" went too deep and analytical in some parts that left me with a feeling that these were "too much information" thing. Although I'm not sure of the addressed religious aspects, but this study were deep, eye-opener and quite shocking!
Dario Deserri
Essay: There's no better way to undestand a different culture than exploring it from her most intimate sights. "Sex is entwined in religion and tradition, politics and economics, gender and generations, so it makes the perfect lens for examining the region's complex social landscape of the Arab World".
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Goodreads Librari...: Correct publication date 2 11 Mar 09, 2014 11:28AM  
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Shereen El Feki is a British journalist. She was born to a Welsh mother and an Egyptian father.
More about Shereen El Feki...

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“he predicted, was the “complete extinction” of America: families torn apart by divorce and the young addled by drugs, booze, and sexual “deviance,” leading to wholesale depopulation as reproduction ground to a halt.” 0 likes
“Moreover, for women in Egypt and its Arab neighbors, having a husband is key: a woman’s social value is still tied to her status as a wife and mother, no matter how accomplished or professionally successful she might be. In recent years, the phenomenon of ‘unusa—spinsterhood—has become the stuff of Facebook groups, blogs, best-selling books, and TV series. As they say in Egypt, “The shade of a man is better than the shade of a wall.” 0 likes
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