Behind the Veil of Vice

The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East

John R. Bradley

Palgrave Macmillan Trade

The Middle East has long been something of a mystery to Westerners, and in particular, the sexual mores of the region continue to fascinate. Arabs are often described as being in a state of Islam-induced sexual anxiety and young Muslims’ frustrations are said to be exacerbated by increasing exposure to the licentiousness of the West. Here, Middle East expert John R. Bradley sets out to uncover the truth about sex in countries like Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Yemen.  Among many startling revelations, Bradley reports on how "temporary" Islamic marriages allow for illicit sex in the theocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia; "child brides" that are sold off to older Arab men according to ancient tribal traditions; the hypocrisy that undermines publicized crackdowns on the thriving sex industry in the Persian Gulf; and how, despite widespread denial, homosexuality is still deeply ingrained in the region's social fabric.

Richly detailed and nuanced, Behind the Veil of Vice sheds light on a taboo subject and unravels widely held myths about the region. In the process, Bradley also delivers an important message about our own society’s contradictions.


Praise for Behind the Veil of Vice

"Recommend... for its accessibility, wealth of detailed content, and its potential appeal for scholars working in the fields of sex work and Middle East studies.... Bradley succeeds in his aim to effectively uncover the mysteries surrounding the business and culture of sex in the Middle East. He presents a very nuanced account of the realities of prostitution in various Middle Eastern countries, supplemented statistically and anecdotally. Bradley identifies a range of existent liberal cultural identities and attitudes towards sex in the countries he has visited, accompanied by an underground culture of sex that is often not as shrouded in mystery as western media so commonly depicts."--LSE Review of Books

"Drawing on extensive research as well as the author's own substantial firsthand knowledge of the region, the book offers an essential corrective to the fantasies and misinformation about Middle Eastern cultures." —Publishers Weekly

Praise for Inside Egypt:

“Essential reading for anyone interested in modern Egypt and the looming dramas of the Arab world.”—United Press International

“In this highly readable and thoughtful volume, Bradley provides a devastating critique of Egypt’s current dictatorial government.”—Library Journal

“Compelling… Inside Egypt depicts a hopelessly dysfunctional country where poverty, torture, and corruption are ubiquitous.”—New Statesman (UK)

“John R. Bradley is a writer looking for the truth in Arab countries ruled by dictators. His writing is brave and essential to our understanding of the reality behind the official, artificial image of our societies.”—Alaa Al Aswany, Egyptian author of the international bestselling novels The Yacoubian Building and Chicago


Praise for Saudi Arabia Exposed:


“A highly informed, temperate, and understanding account of a country… that is an enigma.”—The New York Times


“Brings to life the tensions between rulers and ruled, offering poignant evidence of widespread disillusionment with the Saudi royal family.”—Foreign Affairs


“A thoughtful, incisive portrait of a fractured nation. . . [a] remarkable volume.”—Newsweek

“[Bradley] uses a graceful journalist’s pen to write with scholarly authority... shows a sensitivity rare for a Westerner, reaching directly to the society’s core.”—The Nation

Reviews from Goodreads



  • John R. Bradley

  • John R. Bradley was born in England in 1970. He was educated at University College London, Dartmouth College, and Exeter College, Oxford. He has written for the Washington Quarterly, the New Republic, the Economist, Newsweek, Prospect, the London Telegraph, Salon, and the London Sunday Times. Fluent in Egyptian Arabic, he is the author of Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis (2005), a Foreign Affairs bestseller, and the critically acclaimed Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution (2008).  



Available Formats and Book Details

Behind the Veil of Vice

The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East

John R. Bradley