The Cycle | March 12, 2013
>>> we've all watched the images of the revolution sweeping across the arab world . our next guest has delved deeper than anyone before. it is groundbreaking in its own right but it is the location of her focus, the bedroom. according to her, marriage is the center of the arab universe and everything else revolves around it. so she changes in the sex lives of those in the east because that's where the real revolution has to happen. joining us now, she has a ph.d. in molecular immunology and serve. she had the award winning journal. she writes about sex and the citadel. intimate life in a arab world . thank you for joining us.
>> my pleasure.
>> what can we learn about the transformations in the arab world from their sex lives ?
>> well, the sexual and the political are intertwined. and so for example, the patriarchy, just because we got rid of the father of the nation in egypt or tunisia doesn't mean that the patriarchy has gone away. and so it is much harder to stand up to the father of the family. and you see this reflected in sexual life . so for example, many of the wives i met were longing for more romance, more communication, more spark in the bedroom. yet they felt inhibited to actually express this to their husbands. many young women , for example, would love to see that their bodies are their own. that they're not the question of the family's honor under the control or the supervision of their father or their uncle or their brother. the patriarchy is alive and well . and what i argue in the book is unless we can start to change these attitudes in the bedroom, it will be very hard to change them outside the bedroom in political, economic, social and cultural life.
>> you talk about the patriarchy. we know there is systemic violence meant to perpetuate the patriarchy throughout the middle east . is that sort of violence declining in the wake of the arab spring?
>> well, it is interesting you use the word decline. if you look at the headlines, it appears to be increasing. we've had the reports of terrible cases of rape in downtown cairo during the protests. the rapes in the syrian civil war . it is hard to tell exactly as the violence increasing or decreasing. in egypt there is much less security on the streets for both men and women . what i can say is interesting though, a real 10 forward is that women are now emboldened to speak out. when women have been attacked on the streets of cairo, ten years ago if that happened, would you stay silent. it is not just my honor as a woman. it is the honor of my family at stake. now women are saying no, this is not right. this is against islam . against my right to protest and what is most important now is that men are standing alongside them. their fathers, their husbands, tlb brothers and saying you know what? this is not acceptable. it is a step forward .
>> well, in the midst of those step forwards, putting rape aside, what about systemic violence against women ? there is this idea that in the midst of these arab springs around the middle east and northern africa , there has been a back lash. where for example in egypt , the muslim brotherhood and the salafis are female circumcision to come back and be sort of mainstreamed. are you worried about that backlash as a result of the arab spring?
>> if you're talking specifically about female genital mutilation it's alive and well in egypter respective of the muslim brotherhood . women married under the age of 50 in egypt has been circumstance size ed circumsized. we are concerned conservative policies that may become government law, official law, may affect that. i think what's interesting now is all these conservative currents around the role of women , et cetera , have been happening under the table in the arab world for generations. now because of the arab spring and the rise to political power of islamic groups like the muslim brotherhood , they're on the table. we're now seeing a discussion, a debate about, you know, who speaks for islam , is this the only interpretation we can have about the role of women or sexual life ? this is now on the table happening and this is one of the truly revolutionary aspects of the events of 2011 and beyond.
>> you talked about, you know, husbands and fathers starting to speak up on behalf of women a little bit right now. i wonder if you could talk a little bit more about sort of the concept of family in arab society. it tends to be insular with clearly defined roles and people sort of build their lives around their families in a way maybe we don't here in the west. can you talk a little bit more about that concept of family and, you know, maybe how that had not been the best thing for women until recently?
>> i'm going to speak specifically about egypt because the arab world is a vast and varied place. if you look at egypt and in particular look at the situation for young people , when they were down in tahrir square protesting, it was very often with their families, or they had their mothers on the line on their mobile phones asking where they were. the family is very important. and it's important for two reasons. three, actually. religiously in islam we respect our mothers and fathers. also economically speaking, jobs are so hard for young people to get. this is one of the drivers of the arab spring that you're financially dependent on your family so they call the shots. but the other big problem, and what we're hoping will change in the years to come, is that under the old regime, and, you know, it's essentially business as usual , even with the new figures in power, that the state doesn't really recognize or respect my rights as an individual. so, for example, if i get into trouble in cairo, i can't rely on the government or the police to respect my rights. i'm going to have to call my family and help, and hope they can get me out of trouble. and what this means is the family has a really big say in your personal life , but also your sexual life . and so all of the sexual rights that we talk about, justice and freedom, and dignity and the ability to access information and control your own body, it's going to be hard to realize those until we have structures that recognize and respect individual freedoms. but as i said, getting those in your personal life and in your sexual life is going to reinforce those changes on the bigger political, economic and social scene.
>> well, you get into some really fascinating and thought-provoking stuff here. shereen, thank you so much for joining us.
>> thank you.
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