Sex and the Citadel is a collection of stories by Shereen El Feki, who spent five years traveling across Egypt and several other Arab countries asking people about sex: “what they do, what they don’t, what they think and why”. Why write about sex? Her choice of subject matter is partly stimulated by how sexual attitudes and behaviours are intimately (pun intended) linked to the regions religions, traditions, cultures, politics and economics. True to her mission to understand sex in Egypt and the Arab region through the stories of its peoples, El Feki also gives some insight to her own story.El Feki was trained as an immunologist and then worked as a health and science journalist at The Economist. Half Egyptian and half Welsh, she is able to be both an insider and an outsider, which seems to have served her well in her research for this book. She also provides much self-reflexivity in the book – especially at the beginning and the end – which provides a clearer picture of how she positions herself as a researcher from the Global North studying the South, as a woman raised in the West (Canada) interacting with Arab women and men of various religious and socio-economic backgrounds. Like the topic of sex, the book is both personal (as seen by her extensive use of quotes from her interviewees and the use of her grandmother’s sayings to preface each chapter) and political (although the book focuses on Egypt, it also includes examples from Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and so on).
This review provides a brief summary of the book’s chapters, highlighting specific events or personages that I found particularly interesting, before touching on some aspects (both encouraging and downbeat) of the book.