Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Shereen El Feki

Shereen El Feki is the author of the new book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World.

From her Q & A with Jasmine Elist for the Los Angeles Times:

While "Sex and the Citadel" takes a look at the sexual lives of men and women across the Middle East, there is a stronger focus specifically on Egypt.

My book is centered on Egypt, and in particular Cairo, in part for personal reasons. My father is Egyptian, most of my family live in Egypt, I carry an Egyptian passport and I’m Muslim. But I grew up in Canada, and I never thought much about my Arab heritage -- until Sept. 11, that is. The events of that day and their aftermath spurred me to look more closely at my Arab origins, to better understand where I came from.

But this is more than personal. Egypt is a natural focus of this book because it is the most popu­lous country in the Arab region. Because of its strategic geopolitical importance, it retains formidable political, economic, social and cultural influence across the region. The collective sexual problems faced by Egyptians­­ -- taboos against premarital sex, masturbation, homosexuality, unwed moth­erhood, abortion, and a culture of censorship and silence, preached by religion and enforced by social convention -- are found across the Arab region. And the solutions that Egyptians will, I hope, find in the years to come will have relevance for their neighbors across the Arab region as well.

Why did you choose sex as the lens through which to examine political and social change throughout the region?

My background is in HIV/AIDS. I trained as an immunologist before becoming healthcare correspondent at the Economist (where part of my beat was covering the global HIV/AIDS epidemic), and most recently I was vice chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law. If you want to understand HIV in the Arab region, you have to look at sex because it is the main route of transmission in most countries in the region, and taboos around sex pose a serious challenge to tackling HIV.

It became clear to me that sexuality, more broadly defined, is an incredibly powerful lens with which to study a society, because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue