No pleasure without consumerism

Sameh Fawzy
Tuesday 27 Sep 2022

Islamist lifestyle influencers on social media are propagating regressive and narrowly consumerist messages about women’s rights and freedoms, writes Sameh Fawzy


Sex today has turned into profitable commerce. But this is not a new story. For a long time, some women have chosen or been forced to sell their bodies for money. In the current globalised world, this trade has developed and bypassed its simple manifestation in adultery.

Legitimate sex, or halal sex, has become a growing target for commercial initiatives in the Arab world.  In the Muslim-majority countries, free sexual relations are legally forbidden and culturally rebuffed. Accordingly, marriage for men and women is the only religiously accepted avenue to have sexual encounters. However, making marriage the only legal form for halal sex does not mean that people have no other options, nor does it mean that they stop talking about sex because of prohibiting religious values and traditions.

Real life shows that the more we silence talk over sex, the more societies may indulge in all kinds of immorality behind the scenes. Egyptian society is one example. Although people publicly declare their commitment to religious and ethical values, reality sometimes tells us a different story. 

When we look into discussions on social media about sex and the family, we may come to a conclusion similar to what the famous Egyptian actor Adel Imam said in his unforgettable movie Birds of Darkness – that the country from above is different from the country from below. Indeed, stories on social media remind us of how generational preferences and interactions between men and women have drastically changed in our country.

Over the last few weeks, I have come across plenty of YouTube channels owned and operated by women focusing on ways to upgrade the sex lives of husbands and wives. It is an appealing idea that society should be able to get embroiled in serious and objective discussions of sexuality, while stopping up its ears to the apparently unstoppable vulgar sex chat that takes place on the streets, in some TV drama, and in some social interactions.

Radwa Galal is a famous Youtuber. She talks to, advises, and helps young women satisfy their sexual needs through the only permissible legitimate way of marriage. She helps women to be sexually attractive to their husbands and enjoy sex in a halal way through her videos that discuss sensitive issues that generally remain unspoken within many middle-class families.

Galal is originally from the Delta city of Mansoura. She graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacology at the German University in Cairo (GUC) and later married a young engineer who was an Islamic preacher at the same time. His tragic death after one year of their marriage earned her wide sympathy and support that enabled her to start her own business in Maleka, a chain of fashion stores for veiled women. 

A few years later, Galal faced troubles with her business partners, who accused her of embezzlement. She denied all the accusations on social media but then left Egypt before any legal action was taken against her. She is now believed to be living between Qatar and Turkey. In recent years, she has appeared again as the owner of a fashion store and has started to make videos on halal sex. 

Her style is unprecedented in the way she talks about life and sex. She is veiled, well-dressed, and uses make-up in a proper way, and she talks to a wide range of conservative middle-class young women on YouTube.   

Her discourse is simple. Romantic life is not only about feelings, she says, but is also at the root of the market for lingerie, make-up, and fashion. She makes a correlation between enjoyable bodily contact between husbands and wives and sexy women’s wear.

In her videos on social media, she propagates love, passion, and pleasurable sex, while marketing lingerie, body lotions, and perfumes. She aims to convince conservative young Muslim women that their long dreamt of marriage can only endure if they become a subject of pleasure for their husbands. She also advises wives to accept a second marriage for their husbands, if they request it, in order to immunise them against simply sliding into polygamy.

Although sex and love are a matter of concern for every woman, Galal has never spoken to non-Muslim women because her project only targets veiled, conservative, middle and upper-class Muslim women. She has also never looked into the concerns of the vast majority of marginalised and poorer husbands and wives across the Arab world who may also want to have a more pleasurable sexual life.

Galal is also a model of the social aspects of Political Islam. Based on the experience of the Islamic resurgence that has taken place across the Arab world, Political Islam always focuses on social outreach, because this can generate adherents who apply the ideology in the daily lives. 

Departing from what we know about how the Islamists think of women, throughout her videos Galal diverts women’s attention away from rights-based thinking to a body-focused life. The spillover effects of her approach are significant. Her audience now most probably believe that the basic duty for a woman is to please a man in bed and that sex is not delightful without attractive lingerie, body lotion, candles, and a romantic dinner.

I do not want to go further in making an ideological assessment of Galal’s videos. But for me, their message at best is about increasing women’s expectations about the impact of consumption on their sexual lives, while at worse it drives them back to archaic beliefs about women as a source of temptation to men rather than as being equal citizens.

In sum, her approach has nothing to do with women’s struggle for equality, rights, and freedoms. She puts religion, commerce, and sex into one bottle and then asks husbands and wives to drink its contents to the full. 

* The writer is a senior researcher at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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