Prostitution in Egypt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Prostitution in Egypt is illegal.[1] The Egyptian National Police officially combats prostitution but, like almost all other countries, prostitution exists in Egypt. UNAIDS estimate there to be 23,000 prostitutes in the country,[2] including Egyptians, West African and Eastern Europeans.[3][4][5][6]


Ancient Egypt[edit]

Little is known about the practice of prostitution in ancient Egypt. The Turin Erotic Papyrus depicts women, possibly prostitutes, engaged in sexual acts with men. Permanent body adornment such as tattoos, appearing as dotted diamond shapes on the thighs of figurines and mummies, or as images of the god Bes, are seen on depictions of professional entertainers and prostitutes. Strabo, writing about Roman Egypt, recounts that daughters of noble families could be given into the service of the god Amun or Zeus; she was said to become a prostitute, engaging in sex with whomever she likes, until the onset of menstruation.[7]

Roman occupation[edit]

As in the rest of the Roman Empire, prostitution was regulated. Prostitutes had to be registered[8] and taxes were collected from them.[9]

Middle Ages[edit]

Prostitution was generally tolerated and taxed during this period,[10] the rulers taking the view that prohibition would not stop prostitution and that tax revenue would be lost.[10]

There were periods when prostitution was prohibited following pressure on the rulers from Muslim clerics.[10]

Ottoman rule[edit]

Under Ottoman rule, the regulation and taxation of prostitutes continued.[11] During the 17th century two guilds for prostitutes were set up.[11]

French occupation[edit]

Prostitution flourished following the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. The French organised additional prostitutes brought over from Europe.[12] STIs spread rapidly through the brothels and this prompted the French authorities to introduce a law forbidding French troops from entering a brothel or having prostitutes in their rooms. Offenders received a death penalty.[12]

Rule of Muhammad Ali[edit]

In 1834 Muhammad Ali Pasha outlawed prostitution[13] and female public dancing in Cairo. The prostitutes and dancers were sent to Upper Egypt, especially Kena, Esna and Aswan.[14] In 1837 he extended this to all of Egypt.[11]

Article 240 of the Mixed Penal Code of 1867 states: A pimp who incites young men or women below the age of 21 to evil practices leading to rape is to be punished by a period of imprisonment not less than one month and not more than one year.[12] Article 241 increases the penalty if the offence is committed by the father, mother or guardian of a minor.[12]

Following the abolition of slavery in 1877, many recently freed female slaves turned to prostitution to survive.[10]

British occupation[edit]

1885 prostitute license issued in the Cairo municipality
1927 Cairo brothel license

After the British occupation of 1882, the authorities were concerned about disease spreading amongst the troops. They made legal provisions to control prostitution and introduced a system of healthcare.[12][10] In July 1885 Egypt's Ministry of the Interior introduced regulations for the health inspection of prostitutes.[12] Further regulations were introduced in 1896 to control brothels.[12][15]

Australian soldiers stationed in Egypt in World War I including the famous half Chinese Australian sniper Billy Sing[16] were major customers of Egyptian prostitutes in the local red light districts and brothels. High prices by the prostitutes led to the Wasser red light area becoming the scene of a major riot by New Zealand and Australian soldiers on Good Friday in 1915.[17][18][19] The Australian military arranged for medical treatment for venereal diseases among its soldiers in Port Said and Cairo.[20][21]

In 1932 a Cabinet decree abolished licences for prostitution and established the "Public Morals Police".[12]

A new penal code was introduced in 1937 and included a section to punish men who lived off the earnings of prostitutes.[12]

In 1949 Military Order no. 76 was issued abolishing brothels.[12]

Law No. 68, introduced in 1951, penalizing:[12]

  • Acts of prostitution if carried out habitually
  • Acts of prostitution whether carried out by males or females. (The term prostitution was used in regard to females; for males the term used was licentiousness.)
  • Acts inciting others to engage in prostitution
  • International trading of prostitutes (white slavery)
  • The provision of housing or other premises where prostitutes can carry on their trade
  • The advertisement of prostitution whether in an open or disguised way.

The prostitution system[edit]

The prostitution system in Egypt often depends on pimping, although women also work alone. Pimps in Egypt organize the work of a group of prostitutes and receive a percentage of their profits. This is called the network in Egypt. This system is mainly used in Cairo and Alexandria and other big cities.[citation needed]

Nikah mut‘ah[edit]

Nikah mut‘ah is a temporary marriage allowed under Shia Islam Law. The 'marriage' may last for a term of one hour to one year. It is sometimes used to circumvent the prostitution laws.[22]

Summer marriages[edit]

Wealthy men from the Gulf states often holiday in Egypt in the summer months. Whilst there they may take a young, temporary bride (often under-age) in a so-called summer marriage. The marriages are arranged through a marriage broker and the girl's parents receive gifts and money as a 'dowry'. The marriage ends when the men return to their own country.[23]

Prostitution in the economy[edit]

As prostitution is illegal in Egypt, no taxes are paid. The law exposes people who practice adultery to a jail sentence up to six months. For prostitution, the sentence is up to 3 years.[24]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Egypt is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Egyptian children are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Individuals from the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait purchase Egyptian women and girls for "temporary" or "summer" marriages for the purpose of commercial sex, including cases of sex trafficking; these arrangements are often facilitated by the victims' parents and marriage brokers, who profit from the transaction. Child sex tourism occurs primarily in Cairo, Alexandria, and Luxor.[25]

Women and girls, including refugees and migrants, from Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East endure sex trafficking in Egypt. Syrian refugees who have settled in Egypt remain increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, including sex trafficking, and transactional marriages of girls—which can lead to sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking,[25]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Egypt as a 'Tier 2' country.[25]


  1. ^ "Legislation of Interpol member states on sexual offences against children - Egypt" (PDF). Interpol. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  2. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  3. ^ Dr Yunan Labib Rizk (7–13 June 2001). "A Diwan of contemporary life". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on 17 March 2008.
  4. ^ "Egypt deports 'east European prostitutes'" BBC News, 27 June 2002
  5. ^ Shaden Shehab (22–28 February 2007). "Devil in the detail". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009.
  6. ^ "The Virgin Prostitute!" by Marwa Rakha, American Chronicle, 29 May 2007
  7. ^ Tydesley, Joyce (1995). Daughters of Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (Revised ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140175967.
  8. ^ Edwards, "Unspeakable Professions," p. 81.
  9. ^ McGinn, Thomas A. J. (2003). Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195161328.
  10. ^ a b c d e Gadelrab, Sherry Sayed (2016). Medicine and Morality in Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9780857737724.
  11. ^ a b c Semerdjian, Elyse (2008). "Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815631736.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k El Saadawi, Narwal (1985). "Prostitution in Egypt" (PDF). UNESCO. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  13. ^ Ditmore, Melissa Hope. Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work: A-N. Vol. 1.
  14. ^ "The Dancer Of Esna". Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  15. ^ Bearman, Peri; Weiss, Bernard G.; Heinrichs, Wolfhart (2008). The Law Applied: Contextualizing the Islamic Shari'a. I. B. Tauris & Company. ISBN 9780857714275.
  16. ^ Hamilton, John (2015). Gallipoli Sniper: The Remarkable Life of Billy Sing (illustrated ed.). Frontline Books. p. 2. ISBN 978-1848329041.
  17. ^ Hamilton, John (2015). Gallipoli Sniper: The Remarkable Life of Billy Sing (illustrated ed.). Frontline Books. p. 89. ISBN 978-1848329041.
  18. ^ Robinson, Russell (2014). Lyons, Jo (ed.). Khaki Crims and Desperadoes (illustrated ed.). Macmillan Publishers Aus. ISBN 978-1743518175.
  19. ^ Damousi, Joy; Lake, Marilyn, eds. (1995). Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century (illustrated ed.). CUP Archive. p. 52. ISBN 978-0521457101.
  20. ^ Australian Medical Association, British Medical Association (1915). Medical Journal of Australia, Band 2. Australasian Medical Publishing Company. p. 485.
  21. ^ Australia in the War of 1939-1945 : Ser. 5. Medical, Band 1. Australian War Memorial. 1962. p. 235.
  22. ^ "What We Don't Know about Sex in the Middle East". Zocalo. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  23. ^ Milena, Veselinovic (14 July 2012). "Scandal of 'summer brides'". The Independent. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  24. ^ "100 Countries and Their Prostitution Policies". 18 May 2016.
  25. ^ a b c "Egypt 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.


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