Egypt is driven by two engines - religion and sex. They share the same bed performing acts of sado-masochism on each other. I like to watch. They switch roles, controlling each other in turn, using sexual wiles or surahs to seduce. Promises of hellfire and damnation are the real turn-on as poor manacled sex struggles to come up for air. It wasn't always like this in the Islamic world. Between the eighth and tenth centuries sex was openly discusssed and written about by respected Islamic scholars. Literature, poetry, medical tracts and self help manuals all spoke frankly about sex. Religious figures did not see faith and sex as incompatible. They wrote with surprising frankness on every sexual subject, well, almost. I doubt muff-diving figured prominently. It was a golden age for Arabic culture but today's Arab world is in deep denial over its sexuality and since the 19th century these erotic works have all but disappeared.
Sex was rewritten with the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism. In the 1920s the Muslim Brotherhood pointed their sanctimonious fingers at colonial 'immorality' as a major cause of Egypt's loss of independence . A little old man sitting in an Egyptian prison has a lot to do with todays 'morality'. Sayyid Qutb, an ambitious MB member, had visited America, and described it as a 'satanic tree and corrupt plant." Like most unmarried men in Egypt today, he had never had a sexual encounter with any woman. When Gamal Abdul Nasser imprisoned him along with his mates, he had nothing else to do but put his miserable fundamental thoughts to paper, including blasting the West's cesspit of sexual chaos.
As successive governments failed to provide the basic necessities of life, people turned to Islam and its social and political organizations. The new MB repackaged Islam and offered a vent for protest and civic involvement which were denied by Nasser, Sadat and finally Mubarak. Following the Arab Spring, the oppositional void provided an open door for Islamist candidates. Sex was pushed even further underground.
A few years after Qutb's scribblings were brought to an end by a death sentence, an Austrian psycho-analyst invented the sexual revolution. In the 1930s, Wilhelm Reich, a Marxist analyst, famously coined the saying, "A nation that orgasms happily, is a happy nation," to illustrate his belief that a true political revolution could be possibly only after sexual repression was overthrown. A sexual evangelist, he held that satisfactory orgasms made the difference between sickness and health. It was a panacea for all ills, including Europe's rising fascism.
In her excellent book, Sex and the Citadel, Shereen El Fekl scrutinises sex in the Arab world. She cites two studies on female sexual dysfunction in Egypt. Of 1000 married women in Cairo, nearly 70 percent had some sort of sexual dysfunction including not reaching orgasm. Another study in Upper Egypt showed that half the women interviewed were sexually dissatisfied. In a quick poll of my western female friends who have had sex with Egyptian men, most complained of the lack of sexual satisfaction due to premature ejaculation. This might explain why Egyptian men are buying Viagara by the bucketful - not to get an erection, but to maintain it. Clearly, all is not well in the Egyptian sexual world.
In any society, where the most instinctive and creative act is oppressed, sex will find a way to express itself. But, like a plant struggling for light, it will be hidden, shameful and twisted. By the time I reach my home in Cairo, I will have been undressed over 50 times by the eyes of men I have passed in the street. Countless taxi drivers have tried to entertain me with porn on their mobiles, probably thinking I will hop over to sit beside them and perform whatever is in their small, neanderthal minds. I have been asked by a writer to be his dominatrix - leather, collars, whips the lot. He had asked his wife to dominate him, but she found it distasteful. "I can find no outlet for my desires here. It's impossible. It makes life hell," he said apologising for his request.
In most encounters with an Egyptian man, no matter how brief and business like, he will always steer the conversation to sex. And if he can't bring himself to talk about it, will reveal itself in other ways, such as the long, clammy hand hold, inappropriate comments, constant touching of the back. They would never do this to an Egyptian woman, unless she was a prostitute.
A well known Egyptian journalist once invited me for a drink. I thought we would have an interesting discussion on Egyptian media and the Revolution. But no. Within minutes he was asking me for details of my sexual fantasies. I declined, but he eagerly shared his. He wanted me to pretend to be his step-mother and seduce him. His first sexual encounter had been at the age of 14 when his mother's best friend seduced him. They were lovers for 18 months until she left for Kuwait with her husband. "I have taught you all you need to know about sex and now you need to enjoy yourself," she had said.
He stared morosely into his beer. "I never thought it was going to be so difficult to have sex let alone enjoy it," he said and whispered "Mum" in my ear. I left.
One man contacted me via the social media after noticing a photograph of me with bare feet. He was a foot fetishist and Egypt was hell for him. "I have to go to north Beirut to find women's feet available to me. It's not something that's catered for here. You can't talk about it."
Egyptian men I don't know, have approached me on Facebook, and sent me unsolicited pornographic pictures, or made lewd suggestions, etc. I've had to block over 50 men. No other nationality does this.
Several men have begged me to end their virginity. "I'm fed up having to watch porn. I want the real thing," one of them said. I turned them all down. Pity is not sexy.
A beautiful, unmarried Egyptian woman whom I met by chance at a concert immediately started to tell me about her sex life. " I've never had a full sexual experience," she said. "It always has to be so quick because I'm using a friend's bedroom and there's a time limit because I don't want to get her into trouble."
An architecture student who works part-time in a lingerie shop told me her mother had caught her masturbating in the bath. "My mother told my father who beat me until I was bleeding and couldn't stand," she said. "I left the next day and am now paying my own way for my studies," Determined to find sexual satisfaction, she and her friends drive out to the Cairo-Alex desert road and take it in turns to have sex in the desert. "We also have group sex when we can find the privacy," she said.
I know married men and single straight men who are having sex with men. A gay European friend is amazed at the amount of offers he receives. "It's never happened to me before. I feel like a film star. I get approached in the street," he said. "They are usually straight men who are just desperate for any kind of sex. They can't do it with women because of the taboos. It's also easier. No one asks any questions if two men go into a room on their own."
Same sex couples wander through the streets holding hands, stroking each other's hair and gazing into each other's eyes and no one blinks. But men and women can't even hold hands. I've been booed and hassled while walking arm in arm with my boyfriend, who by the way, is constantly sexually harassed by Egyptian women. Signs of affection are frowned on between the sexes. I made a big mistake of kissing an artist goodbye thinking he would be more open that most Egyptian men. He took a step back as if I had attempted to stab him and said people would think badly of me. When I met a male Egyptian friend after he had lost his mother, my instinct was to hug him, but I knew his conservative relatives would see it as an act of foreplay.
My first landlady in Alexandria was a retired prostitute. *Zeinab once had fifteen women working for her. "Don't be fooled by what people pretend to be here. You can buy any sex you want, as long as you have the money and know where to go," she said, rolling a splif. "And the religious ones are the worst. Quite often, the bigger the zibiba (a prayer mark on the forehead) the harder it is for them to keep their dicks in their jelabeyas."
*Abdou tells a disturbing story. Prior to becoming an atheist he had been a Salafi for six years...these are the guys who want to haul us back to an 8th century desert. His faith began to founder when he watched a video by a well known sheikh. A young man asked him, "Whenever I see a pretty girl I get an erection. What shall I do?"
The sheikh advised him to buy a water melon, cut a hole in it and fuck the fruit. I've never eaten water melon since, neither has Abdou.
On 30th June last year, thousands of Egyptians bravely marched in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood government. A new bunch of out-of-touch old men came in, as unlikely to revive the glories of an earlier Islam as their predecessors. Egypt may think it has rid itself of the Muslim Brotherhood, but Sayyid Qutb and his buddies still rule - controlling the basic principle around which the rest of human life is pivoted.
*Names have been changed.