Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt: Navigating the Margins of Respectability by L. L. Wynn
Cairo is a city obsessed with honor and respectability—and love affairs. Sara, a working-class woman, has an affair with a married man and becomes pregnant, only to be abandoned by him; Ayah and Zeid, a respectably engaged couple, argue over whether Ayah’s friend is a prostitute or a virgin; Malak, a European belly dancer who sometimes gets paid for sex, wants to be loved by a man who won’t treat her like a whore just because she’s a dancer; and Alia, a Christian banker who left her abusive husband, is the mistress of a wealthy Muslim man, Haroun, who encourages business by hosting risqué parties for other men and their mistresses.
Set in transnational Cairo over two decades, Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt is an ethnography that explores female respectability, male honor, and Western theories and fantasies about Arab society. L. L. Wynn uses stories of love affairs to interrogate three areas of classic anthropological theory: mimesis, kinship, and gift. She develops a broad picture of how individuals love and desire within a cultural and political system that structures the possibilities of, and penalties for, going against sexual and gender norms. Wynn demonstrates that love is at once a moral horizon, an attribute that “naturally” inheres in particular social relations, a social phenomenon strengthened through cultural concepts of gift and kinship, and an emotion deeply felt and desired by individuals.