Shereen El Feki

What can the sex lives of Arab people tell us about shifting political, economic, and religious trends?

TED Global Fellow and Author of Sex and the Citadel

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Shereen El Feki | TED Global Fellow and Author of Sex and the Citadel
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In Sex and the Citadel, TED Global Fellow Shereen El Feki sheds light on a highly sensitive and still largely secret aspect of Arab society: the sexual lives of men and women. Linking sex to political, economic, social, and religious trends, El Feki opens a window on the greater landscape of the Arab world. In engaging and deeply personal talks, she uncovers how what’s happening behind closed doors can give us profound insight into the past, present, and future of a rapidly changing part of the world. 

“Shereen El Feki has done a major service to those who care about feminism in this region, about human rights, about sexuality, and about the human condition.”

— Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth

Shereen El Feki  is the author of Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. “A fascinating survey of sex that is rich in detail … Shereen El Feki is a brave woman.” (The Economist) El Feki started her career in medical science, with a doctorate in immunology from the University of Cambridge, before going on to become an award-winning healthcare correspondent with The Economist and a presenter with Al Jazeera English. She is the former vice-chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law, as well as a TED Global Fellow. Shereen sits on the board of a number of civil society groups working in the Arab region, among them Meedan and the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality. She also contributes to a number of publications, including The Huffington Post, International Affairs, and The Independent, and has written and spoken widely on women, sexuality, and HIV in the Arab region. 

Speech Topics

Gender & Sexuality
Sex and the Citadel Intimate Life in the Changing Arab World

If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms. As political change sweeps the streets and squares, parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at upheaval a little closer to home—in the sexual lives of men and women in Egypt and across the region. The result is an extraordinary, informative and engaging account of an aspect of Arab society that is still largely hidden from view.

Sex is entwined in religion and tradition, politics and economics, gender and generations, making it the perfect lens for examining the region's complex social landscape. In this talk, El Feki takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the Arab region, and brings new voices to the debate over its future. With a look back at changing sexual attitudes in the Middle East, and West, El Feki examines what has been driving a shift towards today’s anxieties in the Arab region, and how this plays out in everyday lives: from the taboo of premarital sex to trouble in the conjugal bed; from sexed-up writing to censored movies; from debates over sexual education and abortion to the incendiary topic of unwed motherhood; from the booming business of sex work to the struggles of those who break the heterosexual mould. This is not a talk about what’s wrong in the Arab world. It’s about what’s right: from national policies to community projects to individual choices, El Feki explores how people are finding solutions to their problems, while staying true to their religion and culture, and what this means for the future of democracy across the region.