Sex in the Arab World: Shereen El Feki Talks with Tracy Quan

Or, Why the Arab Spring Desperately Needs a Summer of Love.


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"If you really want to know people, start by looking in their bedrooms," says Shereen El Feki, author of the new book, Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World.

El Feki, who was raised in Canada and is a practicing Muslim, is the former vice chair of the U.N.'s Global Commission on HIV and Law. Born to an Egyptian father and Welsh mother, she was motivated by September 11th to seek a better understanding of her Arab and Islamic heritage.

El Feki found that demonstrators for political freedom in Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution had little interest in also promoting sexual freedom. That's because most Arabs derive their sexual mores from their religious beliefs. The only way to bring more sexual freedom to the Arab world, she argues, is through Islam, which was far more tolerant of the needs of the flesh a thousand years ago than it is today.

On March 13, 2013, El Feki joined novelist and former sex worker Tracy Quan for "Sex and the Citadel: Does the Arab Spring need a Summer of Love?," an event hosted by the Reason Foundation at New York City's Museum of Sex.

In an hour-long conversation, El Feki and Quan discuss why political freedom won't necessarily lead to sexual freedom (4:30); why the rise of Islamism could lead to more sexual freedom (6:00); the Egyptian phenomenon of "summer marriage," in which wealthy travelers from the Gulf states enter into temporary marriages with prostitutes as a way to get around Islam's ban on sex out of wedlock (11:00); a Medieval Arabic dictionary called "The Language of Fucking," which had over 1,000 verbs for having sex (13:30); the rise of gay rights activist groups in the face of the Arab world's brutal homophobia (26:00); the sad state of sex education in the Arab world (33:30); the sexual frustrations of married Arab women (36:30); why women are the primary advocates for female genital mutilation in Egypt (42:00); why virginity is still "a big fucking deal" in the Arab world, leading some prostitutes to perform anal sex exclusively as a way of preserving their hymens (44:30); how attitudes about sex in the Arab world will eventually change by "pulling down the citadel from the inside" (49:00); and the still-common view that masturbation will lead to blindness, deformation, insanity, and hell (1:06:00).

About 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Naomi Brockwell, and edited by Epstein.

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