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Sex and the Citadel

Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World

By Shereen El Feki
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

Sex and the Citadel (2013) offers a revealing look at the sex lives of people in Muslim countries, especially Egypt, which, about 200 years ago, was a hotbed of sensual and sexual activity, but has since become a conservative and sexually repressed society. These blinks take you through the taboos, censorship and gender discrimination that many Muslims continue to resist.

Key idea 1 of 8

The Muslim world was a place of sexual freedom before colonization led to sexual repression.

Today, much of the Muslim world – including countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia – is known for its sexually restrictive laws. We certainly don’t think of these countries as places one would go for some liberating sexual adventures.

Yet, this is the exact kind of behavior that went on centuries ago.

The Muslim world was once a place where sexual freedom was celebrated. Indeed, in 1849, French author Gustave Flaubert traveled throughout Egypt to indulge in the sexual pleasures on offer.

Flaubert traveled along the Nile and went from brothel to brothel, where he enjoyed music and dancing as well as the many women offering their services.

And it wasn’t just women: Flaubert was surprised to discover that homosexuality was completely accepted in Egypt at the time and male prostitutes were also on display, freely dancing into the night.

This sexual liberation would soon come to an end, however, as the effects of colonization led to Muslim cultures changing their ways and repressing sexuality. The kind of freedom that Flaubert experienced in the Muslim world was the end of a cultural peak that began in the fourteenth century.

This ending came during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as the Western world became more dominant and started colonizing parts of the Muslim world.

After losing some decisive battles, Muslims started suffering from what the Egyptians refer to as uqdit al-khawaga, which roughly translates to “foreigner complex.” This sense of inferiority can be traced back to 1798, when Napoleon’s army crushed the Egyptian forces, and it reached its peak in 1882, with the British occupation of Egypt.

This led to a cultural movement in the Muslim world that blamed these losses on their society’s loose sexual morals and homosexuality.

A prime example of this movement is the founding of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in 1920. The Brotherhood viewed a return to the repressive sharia law as the only way for Islam to regain its former greatness.

These restrictive morals continue to dominate Muslim culture today.

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