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

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  847 Ratings  ·  118 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
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Anchor (first published 2013)
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Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was at first very excited to hear about this book, as little has been written on the topic. Unfortunately I found this book has many flaws. It 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 access to women. This would have not been possible for a male a
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
A good background for anyone who wants to know more about women's lives in Egypt. Though the book takes on the overwhelming task of sex in the Arab wold, Egypt is where we spend most of our time and the side trips to other countries are basically flyovers. Will go into more detail later - I think though I rated this book a 3 rather than a 4 as I would have liked to hear more personal narratives and in- depth focus on any of the fascinating topics the book covers, but that is my idiosyncrasy. The ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A well intentioned work. More appropriate if it were condensed and published as an extensive article, not really book length. Frequently repetitive and tedious.
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

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
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have spent time living in and working across the Arab world, and Sex and the Citadel certainly deserves the rave reviews (see 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!
Yomna hosny
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
This is an extremely brave work of literature. More often than not, people would rather pretend that difficult topics don't exist than expose raw emotionality of any kind.

Lyana Khairuddin
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sheeren El Feki got there first!!!

That was my first thought after about a quarter into the book. This was the book I wanted to write about my own experience of next to no sexual education in Malaysia to being a researcher in HPV and now HIV- two sexually transmitted viruses, and the former being so close to women that I am appalled at the fact that I only knew of it when I was studying to write my PhD proposal at the ripe old age of 23. I found similarities between Sheeren and myself, she being
John Pappas
A good survey of how Egyptians, Tunisians and Moroccans view sex and sexuality (marriage, singletons, prostitution, sex ed and LGTB rights). Most material centered around Egypt and how the recent uprising affected views on sexuality with interviews serving as the primary source. Overall very enjoyable with the basic thesis bring that until equal rights (mundane and sexual) can be achieved for Egyptian and Arabian women, LGTB rights remain underground.
فادي زغموت
It is a great book that covers all aspects of the sexuality of the Arab world. It is pretty much comprehensive and says what is needed to be said. Shereen's writing style is entertaining, she is eloquent and precise, which makes the reading experience more rewarding.

It is sad that there is no Arabic edition of this book that it out yet. This is a much needed discourse in the Arab world. Hope it picks up in the Arab world, where it is needed mostly.
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Terribly sensationalized and reads more like an article than an informative book. The title is also misleading since it's actually more about egyptian women than about sexuality and sexual culture in the arab world. I enjoyed reading it for the first 100 pages but it's basically a bland field report targeted to the west.
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.
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
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gender-studies
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
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
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: muslim-societies
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.
Donie Nelson
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book for anyone interested in understanding the people of the Middle East. Message is that if views on sexuality returned to those of Islam in the past, and thus become liberalized, then political liberalism would follow. As long as the people are dependent on their families for "everything"--since the governments have few social programs to support their citizens--then their personal lives will continue to be controlled by their families and worries about what other people think. Most of ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Seksualiteit in Egypte door een oriëntalistische bril, doordrongen van paternalisme en clichés.
Lila Lamrabet
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Being very familiar with the region myself, I have to say that this is such an important and necessary book, and I’m very glad that someone wrote it.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Free and equal relations among individuals are not only key to sexual rights but are also the cornerstone of political democracy; by leveling hierarchies, accepting differences, and respecting individual choices in the one, you help to foster the same in the other."

This book was so much more than I expected when I opened it. And while reading it felt like watching through a window of another person's house, I do believe that it achieved the lofty objective it set out for itself - to give a whol
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me sexual (and bodily) freedom is inseparable from political one. How can anyone have a saying in the future, and politics for that matter, of their countries when they're deprived of any autonomy to their own bodies? After all it is one's body that is battered, imprisoned, famished, raped, etc. whenever a state sees it fit to subjugate its own citizens. It's a book about sex and politics in the Arab region following the Arab Spring and the path both are expected to take in the future. It in ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a fun read, and gave some good insight into sexual norms and changes primarily in Egypt but also in several other Arab countries. The first or second chapter had me giggling as I enjoyed El Feki's library adventures, but then it quickly became much more serious, dealing with some difficult topics. It is a rather broad sweep rather than an in-depth analysis of any one particular topic, but provides a background for further research.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This was a fascinating book about sexuality in Egypt and the Middle East ranging from gender roles and sex in and out of marriage to prostitution, condom usage (or lack thereof), gay sex, and trans people.
It is about the history as well as the present.

I had not considered how Western my views were until I read this.
Interesting anecdotes, but far from methodologically sound. The conclusion essentially bends the information collected into a certain, optimistic shape to fit the overall narrative.
It's a good piece of journalism, not to be confused with a research study.
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jestem pod ogromnym wrażeniem. Autorka łączy osobisty reportaż z naukową rzetelnością, co daje zróżnicowany i pogłębiony obraz egipskiego społeczeństwa. Jedna z tych książek, po których faktycznie człowiek się staje mniej głupszy.
Brendan Monroe
Sigmund Freud famously believed that sexual repression was mankind's chief psychological problem and that repression in youth would manifest itself in adulthood. Nowhere do we see the evidence of this in greater display than the Arab world. Is there a single democracy in the Middle East that isn't ridden with corruption? Israel, while an exception, is also the sole non-Muslim country in the region. Does the problem lie then with Islam? Shereen El Feki, the author of Sex and the Citadel, would ar ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Correct publication date 2 12 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.
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“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.” 1 likes
“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
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