Sex and the arab world

From The Telegraph:

ArabAt the height of the anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, a young man held up a sign reading, “I want to get married.” It may not sound like the most urgent political demand, but it does prove that sex gets everywhere. Shereen El Feki’s book on sex in the Arabic-speaking world is frequently eye-popping, with its tales of female cross-dressers wearing football kit beneath their black robes, prostitutes catering to rich lesbian Saudis in five-star hotels, or pimps arranging short-lived “summer marriages” between poor teenage girls and elderly men. The stories lend the book an anecdotal air and may draw criticism that El Feki has cherry-picked the most lurid cases. The truth, however, is that the stories emphasise just how bewildering the issue of sex has become across the Middle East. The mix of national laws, local customs and religious edicts bring nothing but confusion, made all the more extreme because global media have opened up a public space that has never existed before. In politics, business and art, no one has any clue what the future holds. When it comes to sex, there’s not much clarity.

Take homosexuality. An array of public decency laws allow the police to target gay men and close down the places they meet, but there are no specific laws against homosexuality in Egypt. However, when El Feki points this out to a retired police chief, he insists she is wrong. There are laws, and he acted on them throughout his career. In a country where the law is whatever a policeman imagines, the need for reform is urgent. Demands for sexual freedom were not a significant feature of the protests in Tahrir Square, however. El Feki is told by an activist that talk of sexual freedom would offend the rural villagers who have joined them. El Feki is dubious: she believes the revolutionaries are guilty of self-censorship, fearing any suggestion of licentiousness would enable the puritanical Muslim Brotherhood to outflank them. The Brotherhood was notably absent from the streets of Cairo until late in the revolution, when their fearsome organisational skills brought victory in the presidential election. Nineteenth-century Europeans regarded the Arabic-speaking world as an alien erotic landscape. El Feki quotes Flaubert, who records his dalliances with prostitutes along the length of the Nile. The Frenchman was one of thousands of writers and artists who recorded their impressions of a region that only opened to Western travellers after 1830.

More here.