Sex Work in Egypt: Debunking 8 Arguments Against Legalization

Sunday 25 June 201705:12 pm
They say “prostitution” is the oldest job known to mankind (really, womankind!), yet it still lacks basic rights and regulations, in light of its persistent criminalization. In the Arab world, brothels were openly operating in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain. Yet, politicians and religious men had to ruin it for everybody! In 1937, Bahrain, under the British mandate then, specified certain neighborhoods where brothels can operate. In Tunisia and Turkey, brothels continue to operate legally, and sex workers are required to get licenses and go through regular check-ups. In countries like New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Belgium, sex workers have licenses, go through regular check-ups, and pay taxes. More importantly, they are treated as workers, which entitles them to health insurance, retirement, and other social benefits. In Denmark, the government might even help you pay for a sex worker, if you are a disabled person! [caption id="attachment_70366" align="aligncenter" width="537"]A legal license for a brothel operating in Cairo, dating back to 1885 A legal license for a brothel operating in Cairo, dating back to 1885[/caption] [caption id="attachment_70365" align="aligncenter" width="435"]Picture of the 1937 announcement that marked separate neighbourhoods in Manama where sex workers are allowed to be Picture of the 1937 announcement that marked separate neighbourhoods in Manama where sex workers are allowed to be[/caption]                         After the 2011 revolt, some figures in Egypt openly called for the legalization of sex work; finding it crucial for men and women alike. People like Nawal al-Saadawi, the famous marxist-feminist novelist and activist, as well as filmmakers Amr Salama and Inas al-Dighedi, were some of the figures attacked for their call to regulate sex work. It is noteworthy that two of these names are feminist women who recognize the importance of protecting sex-workers, which cannot be done without decriminalizing their work first. Islamists, as in the example of Tunisia few years ago, tried to push the government to shut down brothels and criminalize sex-work, but have fortunately failed to achieve their goal. However, those opposing the legalization of sex-work are not only Islamists. Many consider such proposition to be outrageous, under the idea that sex in itself should only happen within marriage. Here are eight counter-arguments for you to consider:  
  1. It’s against tradition: Sex work was freely and legally practiced in Egypt since 1882. For many years, the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Hassan El Banna, campaigned to have it criminalized. In 1942, the brotherhood reached a deal with Mostafa El-Nahas, the Prime Minister of Egypt at the time, to have sex work criminalized in exchange for their withdrawal from parliamentary elections.
  2. It’s degenerate or immoral: Regardless of how you feel towards sex work, the reality is it is already happening in Egypt, everyday and all around. In fact, sex work has reportedly been on the rise in Egypt since the revolution in 2011. Legalizing and regulating sex-work would help make it safer; disassociating it from crime and drugs.
  3. It’s Sexist: legalizing and regulating sex work is the only way to protect these women from pimps, johns (American slang for traffickers), and angry citizens. It is the only way to guarantee their safety and their autonomy over their bodies. Legalizing sex work will make things more accessible for these women, especially with health-related issues. It will also provide them with a legal frame when subjected to abuse or assault from their customers.
  4. It ruins the social fabric: It is no secret that there is an epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt and mostly perpetuated by sexually-frustrated single young men. The rise in unemployment, coupled with insane price hikes, have made marriage impossible for these men. Instead, they resort to non-consensual ways. Sex work would create a space for young men to satisfy their basic human need in a consensual way. It would teach them what consensual sex is and how different it is from assault.
  5. Sexually-transmitted diseases: Without the legalization and regulation of sex work, there is no way to protect sex-workers from diseases or to even raise awareness among their clientele. Sex workers need to have regular health check ups, to protect themselves and others. In fact, studies have shown that the decriminalization has led to significant decreases in sexually-transmitted diseases and infections.
  6. Unhealthy sex life: While, yes, paying for sex might not be the healthiest choice, it is important to consider the alternative- Egypt ranked number 2 after Pakistan in porn searches on Google! Porn addiction can be a serious issue as it can possibly detach young men from the act of love; making them more prone to objectifying women. Porn can also normalize sexual violence, or give wrong impressions about what sex in real life looks like!
  7. It’s Haraam: Egypt is a country of a Muslim-majority but it is not and should not be governed by religious laws; which is why alcohol is legal, and many other things that could be considered haraam, are legal. Maintaining this separation between our laws and our religion is necessary to protect both.
  8. Waste of money/bad for the economy: decriminalizing sex work would most likely energize the economy considering the amount of tourism it would bring in. Illegal sex work in Egypt already brings in a certain amount of tourism, in particular from Gulf states, and specifically because laws against sex-work aren’t enforced. Regulating sex-work can make tourists too feel safe, legally and personally.
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