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Transcript
Power and Sexuality in the Middle East
Author(s): Bruce Dunne
Source: Middle East Report, No. 206, Power and Sexuality in the Middle East (Spring, 1998),
pp. 8-11+37
Published by: Middle East Research and Information Project
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3012472
Accessed: 14/01/2010 17:57
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CairoMovieHouse
Sexual
relations
in Middle
and subordinate
social
modern
"sexuality"
[and]
Western
degrees
actors
such
as powerful
categorizing
identity
positions:
of masculinity
dominant/subordinate
Eastern
societies
adult
between
have
men on top; women,
sexual
and gender
and femininity,
has,
and heterosexual/homosexual
or powerless,
"normal"
in favor of recognizing
articulated
historically
boys
identity,
until recently,
categorizations
or "deviant."
more complex
and slaves
hierarchies,
had little
of multiple
kinds
ot sexual
of power.
concept
is, dominant
East.
They position
of "queerness"
and shifting
made
positions
by
predilections
in the Middle
resonance
are structures
that
The distinction
below.
that is, between
The contemporary
realities
social
Both
social
resists
all
of sexuality,
and power.
Middle East Report ? Spring1998
early 1993, news of President
In Clinton's proposal to end the US
military's ban on service by homo?
sexuals prompted a young Egyp?
tian man in Cairo, eager
to
practice his English, to ask me
why the president wanted"to ruin
the American army" by admitting
"those who are not men or women."
When asked if "those" would in?
clude a married man who also
liked to have sex with adolescent
answered
boys, he unhesitatingly
"no." For this Egyptian, a Western
"homosexual" was not readily com?
prehensible as a man or a woman,
while a man who had sex with
both women and boys was simply
doing what men do. It is not the
existence of same-sex sexual rela?
tions that is new but their asso?
ciation with essentialist
sexual
identities rather than hierarchies
of age, class or status.
A recent study of family and
urban politics in Cairo suggests
that social taboos and silences
relating to sexual behavior provide
a space of negotiability.1 They ac?
commodate
discreet incidents of
otherwise publicly condemned il?
licit sexual behavior?adultery,
sex?
homosexuality,
premarital
that
values
provided
paramount
of family maintenance
and repro?
duction and supporting social net?
works are not threatened.
Such
silences, however, leave normative
constructions
of licit and illicit
sexual behavior
unchallenged,
sustain patriarchal family values,
and legitimize patterns of sexual
BaruchRafic/Impact
Visuals violence such as honor crimes, fe?
male circumcision and gay bash?
ing.2
Also in 1993, an Egyptian physician affiliated with Cairo's
Qasr al-Aini Hospital informed me that AIDS and venereal
diseases were not problems in Egypt because neither prosti?
tution nor homosexuality
exist in an Islamic country. While
this statement may express conventions deemed appropri?
ate for conversations
with foreigners,
it is profoundly
ahistorical. Over the centuries, Islamic societies have accorded
prostitution much the same levels of intermittent toleration,
regulation and repression as their Christian counterparts
and, until recently, have been more tolerant of same-sex
Bruce Dunne, an editor of this magazine, teaches Middle East history at
GeorgetownUniversity.
Middle East Report ? Spring
1998
sexual practices.3 Denying the existence
of transgressive
sexual practices helps obscure the ideological nature of trans?
gression," making it difficult, for example, to see prostitutes
as workers who support themselves
or their families by per?
forming services for which there is a social demand. Such
denials also legitimize failures to respond effectively to pub?
lic health concerns such as AIDS.4
Representations
of Power
and
Sexuality
Western notions of sexual identity offer little insight into our
contemporary young Egyptian's apparent understanding that
sexual behavior conforms to a particular concept of gender.
in
His view, informed by a sexual ethos with antecedents
Greek and late Roman antiquity, is characterized by the "gen?
eral importance of male dominance, the centrality of pen?
etration to conceptions of sex [and] the radical disjunction of
active and passive roles in male homosexuality."5 Everett
Rowson has found this sexual ethos "broadly representative
of Middle Eastern societies from the 9th century to the
present." This is not to suggest that there has been an
or homogeneous
historical experience for the
unchanging
Arabo-Muslim world but rather to acknowledge both the re?
markable continuity reflected in the sources and the need
for research that would further map historical variations.6
Islam recognizes both men and women as having sexual
drives and rights to sexual fulfillment and affirms hetero?
sexual relations within marriage and lawful concubinage.
All other sexual behavior is illicit. Whether the 7th century
message of the Qur'an undermined or improved the position
of women is much debated. There is more agreement that in
subsequent centuries Muslim male elites, adopting the cul?
tural practices of conquered Byzantine and Sasanian lands,
construed that message to promote the segregation and se?
clusion of women and to reserve public and political life for
men. Social segregation was legitimized in part by construct?
ing "male" and "female" as opposites: men as rational and
and lacking
capable of self-control; women as emotional
self-control, particularly of sexual drives. Female sexuality,
if unsatisfied
or uncontrolled,
could result in social chaos
and
social
order
thus
ifitna)
required male control of women's
bodies.7 The domain of licit sexuality was placed in service to
the patriarchal order. The patriarchal family served as para?
mount social institution
and the proper locus of sex, thus
ensuring legitimate filiation. Its honor required supervision
of women by male family members, while marital alliances
among families of equal rank maintained social hierarchies.
Where men rule, sexes are segregated, male and family
honor is linked to premarital female virginity and sex is licit
only within marriage or concubinage. Those denied access to
licit sexuality for whatever reasons?youth,
poverty, occupa?
tion (e.g. soldiers), demographic sexual imbalances?require
between norma?
other sexual outlets. Such contradictions
tive morality and social realities supported both male and
female prostitution and same-sex practices in Middle East?
ern societies from the medieval to the modern period. Ruling
authorities saw prostitution as a socially useful alternative
to potential male sexual violence (e.g. against respectable
women) and a welcome source of tax revenues, even as some
religious scholars vigorously objected. According to Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, "institutional prostitution forms part of the
secret equilibrium of Arabo-Muslim
societies," necessary to
their social reproduction.8
In medieval Islamic societies, understood through their
literature of morals, manners, medicine and
(male-authored)
dream interpretation, sexual relations were organized in con?
of social and political
formity to principles
hierarchy.
"[S]exuality was defined according to the domination by or
reception of the penis in the sex act; moreover, one's position
in the social hierarchy also localized her or him in a prede?
termined sexual role."9 Sex, that is, penetration, took place
between dominant, free adult men and subordinate
social
inferiors: wives, concubines, boys, prostitutes
(male and fe?
male) and slaves (male and female). What was at stake was
not mutuality between partners but the adult male's achieve?
ment of pleasure through domination. Women were viewed
as naturally submissive; male prostitutes were understood
to submit to penetration for gain rather than pleasure; and
boys, "being not yet men, could be penetrated without losing
their potential manliness." That an adult male might take
pleasure in a subordinate sexual role, in submitting to pen?
etration, was deemed "inexplicable, and could only be attrib?
uted to pathology"10
Rowson explains the relation between gender roles and
sexual roles in medieval Muslim societies by locating them
in, respectively, distinct public and private realms. Adult men,
who dominated their wives and slaves in private, controlled
the public realm. Sex with boys or male prostitutes
made
men "sinners," but did not undermine their public position
as men or threaten
the important social values of female
or
honor.
Women, who could not penetrate
virginity
family
and were confined to the private realm, were largely irrel?
evant to conceptions of gender; female homoeroticism received
men who voluntarily
little attention. Effeminate
and pub?
gave up their claims
licly behaved as women (mukhannaths)
to membership in the dominant male order. They "lost their
[as men] but could be tolerated and even val?
respectability
ued as entertainers"?poets,
musicians, dancers, singers. Men
a dominant public persona but were pri?
who maintained
threatened
of male domi?
vately submissive
presumptions
nance and were vulnerable to challenge.11
The articulation of sexual relations in conformity to so?
cial hierarchies represents an ideological framework within
which individuals
negotiated varied lives under changing
historical conditions. Adult male egalitarian homosexual re?
lations may have been publicly unacceptable,
but there is
evidence that, in the medieval period, men of equal rank could
active and passive
negotiate such relations by alternating
sexual roles.12 In Mamluk Egypt, lower-class women could
not afford to observe ideals of seclusion
and secluded
upper-class women found ways to participate in social and
economic life and even used the threat of withholding sex to
from their husbands. Women in the
negotiate concessions
Ottoman period went to court to assert their rights to sexual
10
fulfillment (e.g., to divorce an absent or impotent husband).13
State efforts to repress illicit sexual conduct or promote so?
cial-sexual norms (e.g., by closing brothels or ordering women
indoors) were sporadic, short-lived and typically occasioned
and the need to bolster regime
by political circumstances
legitimacy.14
Ideological
Reproduction
Reproduction of ideological Islamic sexual roles in the mod?
ern period has accompanied
dramatic transformations,
including the rise of modern state systems, Western colonial
intervention, and various reform and nationalist movements.
These complex processes have not significantly
challenged
the patriarchal values that undergird the sexual order or
impaired the capacity of states, elites and political groups to
deploy both secular and Islamic discourses in their support.
Colonial authorities
left existing gender relations largely
intact, as did middle-class reform and nationalist movements.
While secular legal codes have been adopted in many coun?
tries, they have generally deferred to religious authority in
matters of family or personal status laws. Both nationalist
and Islamist discourses have invoked ideals of Islamic morali?
ty and cultural authenticity to control and channel change.15
Increased economic and educational
for
opportunities
women and the rise of nuclear family residential patterns
have eroded patriarchal family structures, with, for example,
older forms of arranged marriages giving way to elements of
romantic attachment. Nonetheless,
as Walter Armbrust and
in this
Garay Menicucci suggest in their film discussions
issue, the popular media constantly reaffirm that family in?
terests and normative sexual behavior take precedence over
individual romantic aspirations. Moreover, because regimes
link their legitimacy to the defense of morality and the licit
sexual order, opposition groups and ordinary people draw
attention to the existence of sexually transgressive
behavior
to criticize a range of government policies.16 Thus, premari?
tal and homosexual relations among Moroccan youth, in the
context of AIDS prevention debates discussed in this issue
by Abdessamad
Dialmy, are attributed to the government's
failure to provide employment and, hence, access to marriage
and licit sexual relations. Both official and oppositional dis?
courses affirm sexual norms.
or homosexual,
Sexual relations, whether heterosexual
continue to be understood as relations of power linked to
rigid gender roles. In Turkey, Egypt and the Maghrib, men
who are "active" in sexual relations with other men are not
considered homosexual; the sexual domination of other men
may even confer a status of hyper-masculinity.17 The anthro?
pologist Malek Chebel, describing the Maghrib as marked
by an "exaggerated machismo," claims that most men who
engage in homosexual acts are functional bisexuals; they use
other men as substitutes
have great con?
for women?and
tempt for them. He adds that most Maghribis would con?
in homosexual
sider far worse than participation
acts the
presence of love, affection or equality among participants.18
or homoEquality in sexual relations, whether heterosexual
Middle East Report ? Spring! 998
order.
sexual, threatens the "hyper-masculine"
Gender norms are deeply internalized. A recent study of
sexual attitudes among rural Egyptian women found that
as a form not of violence
they viewed female circumcision
but of beautification,
a means of enhancing their physical
differentiation
from men and thus female identity.19 An in?
formal study of men in Egypt found that aspirations to "he?
informed a continuous
gemonic notions of masculinity"
of
the
nature
of
process
negotiating
masculinity?the
ability
to provide for families or exercise control over women?in
response to declining economic conditions.20 The persistent
notion that women lack sexual control affords broad scope
and social sanction to aggressive male sexuality. Women alone
bear the blame?and
the often brutal consequences evidenced
honor
crimes?for
even the suggestion of their involve?
by
ment in illicit sexual activities. Suzanne Ruggi notes in this
issue that honor crimes may account for 70 percent of mur?
der cases involving Palestinian
women. Honor crimes are
also common in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
Violence directed against male homosexuals
appears to
be on the rise. Effeminate male dancers known as khawals
were popular public performers in 19th-century
Egypt; to?
day that term is an insult, equivalent to "faggot."21 The 19thcentury khawals may not have enjoyed respect as "men," but
there is little evidence that they were subjected to violence.
Hostility to homosexual practices has been part of the politi?
cal and cultural legacy of European colonialism. Today, glo?
bal culture's images of diverse sexualities and human sexual
rights have encouraged the formation of small "gay" subcul?
tures in large cosmopolitan cities such as Cairo, Beirut and
Istanbul and a degree of political activism, particularly In
is not a crime in Turkey,
Turkey. Although homosexuality
Turkish gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites
and trans?
sexuals have been harassed and assaulted by police and some?
times "outed" to families and employers. Turkish gay activists
have specifically been targeted. Effeminate male prostitutes
in contemporary Morocco are described as a marginal group,
ostracized and rejected by their families, living in fear of po?
lice and gay-bashers
(casseurs de pedes). For some, as for
Turkish transsexuals,
prostitution serves as one of the few
in
which
can
live their sexuality.22 Many homo?
ways
they
sexuals in Middle Eastern countries have sought asylum in
the West as refugees from official persecution.23
"Queering"
the
Middle
East
In noting the threat posed to the dominant sexual order by
egalitarian sexual relationships, Malek Chebel acknowledges
the great silence that surrounds the fact that widespread
active male homosexual relations in Middle Eastern societ?
ies presuppose the widespread availability of passive part?
ners.24 Demet Demir, a political activist and spokesperson
for Turkish transsexuals,
touches upon the same contradic?
tion when she states, with reference to the popularity as pros?
titutes of Istanbul's transsexuals:
"These people who curse
us during the day give money to lie with us at night."25 Is
this the "functional"?and
demisogynist?"bisexuality"
Middle East Report ? Spring
1998
scribed by Chebel above the mere substitution
by men of
available
men
for
women?That
unavailable
other,
view, which
or
over a
the
choice
of
a
male
transsexual
hardly explains
female prostitute, is entirely consistent with and sustains
the ideology that positions public or visible or audible men
as sexually dominant.
Little attention has been given to the nature of these
expressions of male sexual desire which, as Deniz Kandiyoti
has noted, seem to "combine a whole range of masculinities
and femininities."26 There are, she suggests, generational and
dimensions
of masculine
institutional
to the production
identities. Thus, men who are expected to be "dominant" in
one context may experience subordination, powerlessness and
humiliation in others, for example in relation to their fathers
and to superiors at school or during military service. How
does "masculinity" change meaning in these different domains?The complexity of questions of sexuality, identity and
power are explored in this issue by Yael Ben-zvi who finds
herself, in Israel, simultaneously
privileged as an Ashkenazi
as a lesbian. The aim of "queerness,"
Jew and marginalized
therefore, is to recognize identity as "permanently open as
to its meaning and political use [and to] encourage the pub?
lic surfacing of differences or a culture where multiple voices
?
and interests are heard."27
Endnotes
in Urban
1 DianeSingerman,
Avenuesof Participation:
Family,Politics,andNetworks
in CairoPress,1997),pp.92 and100.
American
Quarters
of Cairo(Cairo:
University
et desoutienaupresdeprostitues
2 SeeLatefaImane,"Unprogramme
desensibilisation
LeJournalduSIDA92-93(December
masculins,"
1997),p.55.
1996-January
in the Arab/Islamic
"ANoteon the Studyof Homosexuality
3 See As'adAbuKhalil,
ArabStudiesJournal1/2(Fall,1993),pp.32-34.
Civilization,"
unmasculin
Journal
4 SeeMalekChebel,
"Laseparation
dessexesengendre
maghrebin,"Le
duSIDA92-93(December
1997),p.27.
1996-January
in Medieval
5 EverettK.Rowson,
"TheCategorization
ofGenderandSexualIrregularity
in JuliaEpsteinandKristinaStraub,eds.,BodyGuards:
TheCultural
ArabicViceLists,"
PoliticsofAmbiguity
(NewYorkandLondon:
1991),p. 73.
Routledge,
6 Ibid.,pp.72-73.
DC:American
Historical
GenderandIslamicHistory(Washington,
7 SeeJudithTucker,
and
"Hierarchies
ofGender,
1993),pp.3-13;StevenM.Oberhelman,
Ideology,
Association,
in J.W.WrightJr.
GreekandArabicDreamLiterature,"
Powerin AncientandMedieval
in ClassicalArabicLiterature
andEverettK. Rowson,eds.Homoeroticism
(NewYork:
Columbia
Press,1997),p.66.
University
AH.564-6411
AD. 1169-1341
8 Hassanein
(London:
Rabie,TheFinancialSystemofEgypt:
auCaire
Artisansetcommergants
Oxford
Press,1972),p.119;AndreRaymond,
University
and
Abdelwahab
auXVIIIesiecle(Damascus,
508-09
527;
Bouhdiba,
1973),pp.
Sexuality
in Islam(London:
&KeganPaul,1985),p. 193.
Routledge
9 Oberhelman,
op.cit.,pp.67-68.
10 Rowson,
op.cit.,pp.66-67.
11 Ibid.,pp.66 and72-73.
12 Ibid.,p. 66.
Female
CaireneWomen:
13 HudaLutfi,"Manners
andCustomsof Fourteenth-Century
in NikkiR.Keddie
versusMaleShar'iOrderin MuslimPrescriptive
Treatises,"
Anarchy
in MiddleEasternHistory(NewHaven:YaleUniversity
andBethBaron,eds.Women
Tucker,
Press,1991),pp.101and109-18;
op.cit.,pp.18-19.
14 Rabie,op.cit.,p. 119;Raymond,
op.cit.,pp.604-09.
15 SeeTucker,
op.cit.,pp.19-33.
16 Singerman,
op.cit.,pp.93-94and100.
Continued
on page 37.
11
Continued
on page 29.
from Ben-zvi,
14OmaOsheri,
"Nim'as
LanuLeha'amid
Panim"
hadEnough
ofPretending"),
("We've
Ma'ariv,
December
18,1995.
15Eden's
"HaMo'omedet"
HaZman
16(January
HaVarod
("The
column,
Candidate"),
1998),
p.3.
16"Ha'Isha
Shelanu
Lamo'atsa"
Woman
totheCityBoard"),
20
("Our
KLafHazak(Fall-Winter
1997),
pp.23-27.
171equate
"de-racialized"
withAshkenazi
of
and,withFrankenberg's
identity
(op.cit.)definition
whiteness
inmind,asa "cultural
void"
withpower
(122),buta "void"
charged
18Eden's
"HaMo'omedet"
HaZaman
15(December
HaVarod
('TheCandidate"),
column,
1997),
p.
13.
191conducted
theinterview,
which
infullas"Arviya,
waspublished
Streitit"
Amerika'it,
Feministit,
17(Fall1996),
("Arab,
American,
Feminist,
Straight"),
KLafHazak
pp.10-12.
20 Underhermaiden
LeviNahum,
withherpartner,
IraRader(nowIraEden),
name,Michal
BeKlaf
Hazak
Bevakasha"
Political
Matters
("No
"Inyanim
Mediniyim?Lo
inKLafHazak,
Please"),
17(Fall1996),
KLafHazak
p.12.
21 Itis onlyrecently,
nineyearsafterKLafHazak
thata tokenPalestinian
wasfounded,
lesbian
initspages.
wasfinally
SeeMansiya
Nishkah"
("A
published
(pseudonym),
"Sipur
Forgotten
Story"),
18-19
14.
KLafHazak (Spring-Summer
1997),
p.
22SeeKLafHazak
18-19(Spring-Summer
1997),
pp.19-22.
23Words
musicbyZvikaPik.
byYoavGinai,
Now in Paperback!
DICTIONARY
OF
24OnUmpatampa
Words
musicbyDanaInternational.
(IMPDance,
1994).
byDuduBarak,
25Michal
Eden,"Lehitga'ot
Belsrael,
Mashma,"
Tartey
op.cit.,p.2.
26"Ha'Isha
Shelanu
HaZman
HaVarod
16(January
LaMo'atsa,"
1998),
p.26.
27YairKedar,
"Thank
YoufortheMusic,"
HaZman
HaVarod
12(September
1997),
pp.5-7.
28Words
andOferNissim,
music
OnOferNissim
byDanaInternational
byOferNissim.
Featuring
DanaInternational
(IMPDance,
1993).
29"Miz
miz"
is probably
derived
fromtheHebrew
In
slang"mizmooz,"
meaning
physical
flirting.
Egyptian
slang,it meanssnacking.
30Words
musicbyOferNissim.
OnUmpatampa
(IMPDance,
1994).
byYoavGinai,
31Thesongwasbanned
fora timebyIsraeli
radiolestit encourage
youngmentocrosstheborder
anddieoutside
theconventional
ofheroic
framework
service.
death?military
THE
"Him makes an
as varied as the
With over 1,000
guide by Middle
one of the most
our fingertips.
1998* 384 pp.
MIDDLE
EAST
Dilip Hiro
a region
impressive attempt...[at]
Middle East."-77?e Economist
entries, this authoritative reference
East expert Dilip Hiro brings
volatile regions of the world to
0-312-17435-7
$17.95 pb.
32Words
musicbyZvika
Pik.OnUmpatampa
(IMPDance,
1994).
byYoavGinai,
THE
33Words
musicbyOferNissim.
OnMaganona
(Helicon
1996).
byDanaInternational,
NAWAL
EL
SAADAWI
READER
Continued
from Dunne,
on page
ll.
17HuseyinTapinc,
andTurkish
MaleHomosexuality,"
inKenneth
"Masculinity,
Femininity,
Homosexualities:
andGayExperiences
Plummer,
(London
ed.,Modern
Fragments
ofLesbian
andNewYork:
1992),p.46;Singerman,
Routledge,
op.cit.,p. 99;Chebel,op.cit.,p. 27.
18 Chebel,op.cit.,p. 27.
19 HindKhattab,Women's
Perceptions
of Sexualityin RuralGiza(Giza,Egypt:The
Council:
in Reproductive
Health1, 1996),p. 20.
Population
Monographs
20 Kamran
AsdarAli,"NotesonRethinking
AnEgyptianCase,"
Masculinities:
Learning
A PracticalBeginning(ThePopulation
AboutSexuality:
Councilandthe International
Women's
HealthCoalition,
106-07.
1995),pp.
21 Singerman,
op.cit.,p. 100.
Nawal
DECONSTRUCTING
"THE
22 Imane,op.cit.,p. 55;TurkishDailyNews,August22, 1997;AmnestyInternational,
Basedon SexualOrientation
(London:
BreakingtheSilence:HumanRightsViolations
UK,1997),pp.26-27,52.
AmnestyInternational
23 Information
toMERIP
oftheInternational
provided
courtesy
GayandLesbianHuman
SanFrancisco.
RightsCommission
AsylumProject,
24 Chebel,op.cit.,p.27.
25 Turkish
DailyNews,August22,1997.
IMAGES
TURKISH
i
Avenue
1998
WOMAN"
Reference
800-221
Middle East Report ? Spring
OF
Edited by Zebra F. Arat
Situates the representation
of women in their
historical and ideological contexts, exposing myths
and clarifying the complexities
which are
connected
to them.
March 1998-352 pp.
0-312-17544-2 $55.00 cl.
26 DenizKandiyoti,
"TheParadoxesof Masculinity,"
in AndreaCornwallandNancy
Masculinities:
andNew
(London
Lindisfarne,
eds.,Dislocating
Comparative
Ethnographies
York:
1994),p. 212.
Routledge,
27 StevenSeidman,"Introduction,"
in StevenSeidman,ed., QueerTheory
ISociology,
Mass.:Blackwell,
1996),p. 12.
(Cambridge,
El Saadawi
"...impassioned
essays embody [Saadawi's]
commitment to 'the power of the truthful word to
reach the minds and souls of people in spite of the
barriers erected around them.'"-Booklist
1997* 288 pp.
1-85649-514-0 $19.95 pb.
Zed Books
Division
10010
lilli