No pleasure without consumption

Sameh Fawzy
Tuesday 4 Oct 2022

Sex is becoming a lucrative business. This is not new. For centuries women have either sold their bodies willingly or been forced to do it. In today's globalized economy, the negative associations of sex with adultery are largely overlooked.

The market for legitimate sex, or Halal sex, has become the target of many new commercial ventures in the Arab World. In Muslim-majority countries governed by Sharia law, free sexual relations are legally forbidden and culturally frowned upon, making marriage the only religiously sanctioned outlet for sexual desire. But making sex legitimate through marriage (or providing Halal sex) does not mean that people do not resort to other ways to satisfy their sexual desire. Nor do religious restrictions on discussing sexual matters deter people from talking about sex.

Reality shows that the more we suppress any talk about sex, the more societies indulge in all kinds of immorality behind the scenes. Egyptian society is a case in point. Although people publicly declare their allegiance to religious and ethical values, reality tells us a different story. Looking closely at what people post on social media about family and sex, we come to a conclusion similar to that expressed by the hero of the classic movie “the Birds of Darkness” (played by renowned Egyptian actor Adel Imam) that seeing this country (Egypt) from above is not anything like seeing it from below. Indeed, such social media posts constantly remind us of the dramatic changes in Egypt's younger generation's perception of the relationship between men and women.

I recently saw plenty of YouTube channels owned and operated by women. These channels focus on spicing up the sex life of married couples. In a society that still refuses to engage in serious conversations about sex (while not refraining from discussing it in the street or in TV shows in a most vulgar and obscene way) such channels are welcome.    

Radwa Galal is a famous Youtuber who advises young women on satisfying their sexual needs within the legitimate bounds of marriage. Her videos have a strong following. They teach women how to sexually attract their husbands and enjoy sex in a way that is religiously permissible (Halal).

Her videos are striking in that they discuss sensitive issues that are taboo to ordinary middle class families.

Galal is originally from Mansoura, a city in the delta region. She graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the German University in Cairo (GUC). She later married a young engineer who was also an Islamic preacher. His tragic death just one year after their marriage earned her widespread sympathy and support that enabled her to start her own businessShe opened Maleka, a series of stores specializing in veiled women's attire. A few years later she encountered problems with her business partners, who accused her of embezzlement. She posted on social media denying all accusations. She left Egypt shortly before any legal action could be taken against her. Now she is believed to have residences in both Qatar and Turkey. In recent years she started making videos again. She still poses as an owner of a women's clothing store and still talks about happy Halal sex.

Galal’s style of talking about life and sex is both stimulating and unprecedented. She is veiled, well-dressed, and wears make-up in moderation. She appears on her YouTube channel, giving the impression that she talks to a wide range of conservative middle-class young women.   

She speaks plainly and clearly. Romance for her is not only about feelings. It also provides ample opportunities for marketing products such as lingerie, make-up, and dresses. To her, enjoyable sex is dependent on a woman's attire. Women should dress in a way that sexually stimulates their husbands.

In her videos and reels on social media she propagates love, passion, and pleasurable sex, while marketing lingerie, body lotions and perfumes. According to her, if young conservative Muslim women want long and enduring marriages then they will have to learn to please sexually husbands who are otherwise surrounded everywhere by all kinds of temptations. Furthermore, she blatantly advises wives to willingly accept that their husbands marry a second woman, if they so choose, simply to guard them against polygamy.

Despite love and sex being the concern of every woman, Galal never addresses non-Muslim women, simply because her clientele is only veiled, conservative, and middle to upper class Muslim women. In addition, she seems to overlook the millions of poor and disenfranchised husbands and wives who also want a pleasurable sexual life.

Galal is an example of that aspect of political Islam that engages social problems. In light of the so-called Islamic revival, political Islam is disseminating its ideology by recruiting more followers who are willing to apply its precepts in their everyday lives. In 2012, it was these socially influenced masses that gave victory to the Muslim Brotherhood in both parliamentary and presidential elections.

Contrary to the ideas we typically associate with Islamist thought, Galal does not lecture women on their husband's rights. Instead, she focuses on women's bodies. The spillover effects of her approach is significant. Her audience now probably believes that a woman's cardinal duty is to please men in bed, and that sexual pleasure cannot be divorced from merchandise such as attractive lingerie, body smoothing lotions, rosy-smell candles, and imported shower gels as well as things such as romantic dinners etc.

I have no desire to make an ideological assessment of Galal’s videos and reels. At best, her message is to make women appreciate the impact of consumer goods on their sexual life. At worst she propagates antiquated beliefs about women being temptresses rather than equal citizens.

In summary, Galal’s approach has nothing to do with women's struggle for equal rights and for freedom. She has created a cocktail in which she has thrown religion, commerce and sex into the mix, and asks husbands and wives seeking sexual pleasure to drink it.

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