> Skip to content

A fascinating, groundbreaking look at changing sexual attitudes and behaviour in the Arab world, and their part in 2011’s popular revolts

A fascinating, groundbreaking look at changing sexual attitudes and behaviour in the Arab world, and their part in 2011’s popular revolts

In the political unrest that has swept across the Arab region in 2011, all eyes have been on the streets and squares erupting in protest. But for the past five years, Shereen El Feki has been looking at upheaval a little closer to home - in the sexual lives of men and women across the Arab world. The result is Sex and the Citadel, an informative, insightful and engaging account of a highly sensitive and still largely secret aspect of Arab society. Sex might seem a strange lens with which to examine change in the Arab world; it is, in fact, a prism with which to refract the region’s complex social spectrum. Sexual attitudes and behaviours are intimately bound up in religion, culture, politics and economics. As such, they are not only a reflection of the conditions that led to the recent uprisings, as well as one of the engines of revolt, but will also be a measure of hard-won reforms in the years to come.

Sex and the Citadel is no peep show. By linking sexuality to political, economic, social and religious trends, it opens a window on the greater landscape of the Arab world, both for readers new to the region whose interest has been sparked by recent events, and for old hands familiar with the Arab world. Nor is the book an academic treatise: this is a highly personal account, rich with original research and first-person stories, that gives us unprecedented and timely insight into a part of the world that is transforming in front of our very eyes.


At a fragile moment in Arab relations with the modern world, comes this book about Arab sexuality. Told with candour, humanity and a journalist's sharp eye for detail, it offers a rare insight into the secret world of sexual realities in Arab culture. The author finds messages of hope in the religious traditions of privacy and tolerance. As social networks meet traditional beliefs, to read this book is to understand part of the explosive dynamic that is at work amongst a proud people facing the challenges of truth, science and modernity.

The Honourable Michael Kirby

Shereen El Feki's book is important and timely. As we watch the unfolding of the Arab Spring she takes us into the heart of some of the toughest debates confronting people across the Arab world, in particular how to reconcile religious teachings with personal emotions and relationships. In debates that too often are marked by prejudice, ignorance and preconceptions she sheds light on a range of issues that are simultaneously personal and deeply political. Neither religious zealots nor Islamaphobes will like this book, but most of us will read it with gratitude for her clear headed insights and exposition

Dennis Altman AM, author of Global Sex, Professor of Politics and Director Institute for Human Security, LaTrobe University

This important and moving book is haunted by the power of the citadel, embodying the weight of tradition in Arab societies, but is simultaneously animated by the diverse voices of sexual need, desire, fear and hope. We are taken on a journey through cultures in rapid transition, suddenly illuminated by the Arab spring, where marriage, the family, relations between men and women, men and men and women and women are questioned as never before, and millions seek to reconcile the challenges of modernity with hallowed and respected faith. Despite all the apparently intractable issues, the book suggests that there is no incompatibility between Islam and sexual fulfilllment, as long as Muslims have the opportunity to think and act for themselves. This book is a spur to thinking and an inspiration for action.

Jeffrey Weeks, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, London South Bank University

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    March 1, 2013

    Vintage Australia

    368 pages

    RRP $34.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    March 1, 2013

    Random House Australia

    368 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
    • iBooks
    • Google Play EBook AU
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks