‘How I came to be demonstrating sex toys to a coffee morning of Cairo housewives is a long story.”
With Shereen El Feki musing thus in her introduction to “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World,” any suspicion that her book is dry and academic evaporates. Conversational yet informed, witty without succumbing to frivolity, and buttressed every so often by statistical findings, “Sex and the Citadel” emerges from a five-year, somewhat desultory investigation of sexual mores in a region undergoing political transformation. The author, a health and science journalist and former vice-chair of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law, focuses on Egypt, but also visits Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and (briefly) Israel and the United Arab Emirates. She talks to ordinary people, health professionals, sex workers, and to activists on behalf of women’s rights and those (gently) pushing for cultural acceptance and legal protection of sexual minorities.