In Italy, the most common search typed into porn sites is "mum". In France, it's "beurette", a colloquial term for French women with a North African background. In Egypt, it's the word "Arabic" which is the most frequently searched, according to Google Trends, pointing to a preference for videos that show women wearing the veil having sex or carrying out sex acts.

In Egypt, people can access porn sites freely. Attempts by former governments to ban them have all failed. "In the Arab-speaking world, Egypt is the main market for pornography. Independent and politically engaged media like Mada Masr are blocked, but not porn sites. It's politically expedient to allow people this virtual experience of pleasure, to assuage the sexual frustration eating away at Egyptian society," says Adel Iskandar, a communications lecturer and Egypt specialist at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

According to data from Alexa, a tool that analyses web traffic and provides global statistics, four of the largest porn streaming sites are in the top 50 most-visited sites in Egypt. But Egypt is not the only one — the same is true of France, the United States, India, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco. "Saudis are also big consumers of pornography, but it's difficult to verify the ranking because they use encryption techniques to get around blocks, and this confuses the stats," adds Iskander.

On porn streaming platforms, you can look for precise categories of porn by using a key word in a search bar such as "Latinos", "lesbians", "black", "Arabic", or "hijab". 

Mohamed (not his real name), 33 years old, occasionally goes on porn sites. He's spoken about it with his friends.

"In the porn industry, the woman is presented as being Arabic, when she's actually usually white or Indian "

We all like different things in porn. One of my friends likes role-play, another one Latinos. I know that the porn industry markets films with the keywords "Arabic", "Muslim" and "hijab" or "veiled". I've come across these videos when browsing a porn site. The storyline is usually the same. The woman is presented as being Arabic, when she's actually usually white or Indian. She's completely naked, but keeps her hijab on, and completely gives herself over to sexual pleasure that is forbidden in Islam outside marriage.

"For me, it's like fantasising about a nun"

For me it's like fantasising about a nun who has taken a vow of chastity and who we imagine is tasting the forbidden fruit. Some people find that a turn on, but it's not my kind of thing. In Egypt, one can find amateur films online showing Arabic women having sex, "sex tape"-style — so filmed without them knowing and at their cost. When these videos become public, they always cause a scandal. I've seen a few of them out of curiosity, but I don't stop at nothing to find them, or even get a particular kick out of them.

Screengrab from a popular porn site in Egypt, showing the first few results of a search using the keyword "hijab".

"What turns me on are amateur films, Arabic sex tapes"

Abdallah (not his real name), 34 years old, journalist, likes amateur porn films showing Arab women. 

What I like are videos with Egyptian women, women that I could go past on the street. Women who, like my wife, wear the veil but who I can't speak to. Basically everything that is "baladi" — not from Westernised, urban societies, but from the more conservative and traditional milieu that I grew up in.

I don't like professionally produced porn as much. It's better quality, sure, but it's not realistic. They are actresses with perfect bodies who are performing a role. And it's unusual that there are Arab women in these kinds of productions. The only one I know is Mia Khalifa, who is American but from a Lebanese background. But she is acting too and I find it fake.

"There's something arousing about seeing women wearing the
veil — moral, modest, demure — take it off"

What turns me on are amateur films, Arabic sex tapes, where you can believe that they're really having sex because sometimes they can be pretty bad quality. They can be quite difficult to find. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can find them online. Like with this Salafist politician, a member of the Al-Nour party — what a stallion! He seduced women and had sex with them. He filmed everything and kept the videos for his own use, but one day his computer broke and the videos were leaked when he got it fixed. The videos were widely shared. [Editor's note: the Al-Nour vehemently denied that he was ever a member]. I get it. There's something exciting about seeing women wearing hijab — moral, modest, demure — take off the veil and lose themselves in sexual pleasure, outside of marriage. It's a taboo, a religious rule that they're breaking.

Screen capture from the sex tape showing an alleged member of the political party Al-Nour.

"Most of all I like porn where the man focuses on woman's sexual pleasure — but it's rare to find that"


Fatimah (not her real name), 25 years old, is a history student and regularly watches porn. 

I wear the hijab and I think this fetish for women wearing the veil is mostly a Western thing. Boyfriends that I've had never fantasised about me taking off my hijab. Of course, the first time that we have sex, the pleasure is double: they discover my body and my hair at the same time. But the veil isn't as much as an obsession here as in the West. It's like a hat, that's all.

"It works in your favour to play the 'oriental' card in an industry dominated by white people"

I first heard about hijab porn when Mia Khalifa, 21 years old at the time, was chosen as the top porn actress on Porn Hub. She only held the top spot for a week, but the fact that she comes from a Lebanese background was what got media interested. I watched her video. I thought it was degrading for Muslim women. In one of her videos, she has sex with a man while keeping her hijab on, to show that she is "Muslim". It's absurd, but it works in your favour to play the 'oriental' card in an industry dominated by white people.
"In Islam, it's forbidden to watch naked bodies and people having sex"

I sometimes watch porn, when I don't have a boyfriend. Of course I feel guilty after watching it. In Islam, it's forbidden to watch naked bodies and people having sex. It's also forbidden to have sex outside of marriage. I'm breaking these religious rules, but I'm not the only person to do so in Egypt.

In general, I don't search for specific search terms. What I like most of all are clips when the man focuses on the woman's pleasure, but it's rare to find that. Most videos are made to fulfill men's fantasies. The woman is rarely respected, and instead is dominated and humiliated.

"There are often sex tape scandals in Egypt"


Adel Iskandar, a communications professor and Egypt specialist at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, says that this taste for "Arab porn" is a trend all over the Arab world.

In Egypt, only making and distributing porn is illegal. Unlike Gulf countries, people can access porn freely. But even in Saudi Arabia people manage to get around censorship. It's of course impossible to admit to publicly. In the Arab world, sex outside of marriage is forbidden and has to take place behind closed doors. The Arabic word for sex is "nikah", which is also the word for the marriage contract. Pornography is a transgression of religious rules, but it's watched widely.

"In Egypt, people who watch porn like watching women who have a similar culture to them"

Porn isn't really made in the country, the porn industry is a foreign industry and yet people who watch porn in Arabic countries like watching "Arab porn". People like watching women who have a similar culture to them. They want what is around them but that they can't get easily. Arabic women: Egyptian, Muslim, veiled. But in the films made by the porn industry, the women are rarely Arabic. Which goes some way towards explaining Mia Khalifa's success: the fact that she is "properly" Arabic. Her darker skin, her tattoos in Arabic, her dark eyes, and her Lebanese background made her a celebrity in the Arab world. She's the first Arabic pornstar, inviting curiosity and fascination as well as condemnation and disgust. In Lebanon, I even saw graffiti that jokingly called for her to be president. 

Mia Khalifa's tattoo in Arabic, "All for the country, glory, and the flag" is tattooed on her forearm, from Mia Khalifa's Instagram account.

Mia Khalifa also found some popularity in the Western world. She is the embodiment of Western orientalist fantasies. The body of an Arabic woman is something inaccessible, something that the Western imagination wants to take and dominate, caught between the sexualized orientalization of Muslim bodies in the west and the fetish for indigenous sexual content in the Arab world.

"What people like about the videos is that they're real"

Because there is no professional porn made in Egypt, Egyptians turn to amateur videos instead. There are lots of sex-tape scandals in Egypt. They show women trapped by men and then eventually giving in to their desire. These films are often of bad quality, blurry, barely audible. But what people like about the videos is that they're "real", they're not staged, and show a real sex act filmed in Egypt.

These videos are sold on, sent from mobile phone to mobile phone and then often shared via a USB drive. You have to be in on a circle of people sharing it, or just wait for it to be revealed to the public. The woman's reputation is then ruined, and her life is doomed. The man is celebrated. These kinds of sex tapes have become a phenomenon in Egyptian society.

"There hasn't been any kind of a sexual revolution in Egypt... Porn-watching is not going to stop"

There hasn't been any kind of a sexual revolution in Egypt. The age that people get married has got later because of the cost of marriage and because of the high level of unemployment. In this kind of context, porn-watching is not going to stop. It's a way for people to work off their sexual frustration and even to explore — virtually — their sexuality. A sexuality based primarily on men's desires and fantasies, where women don't have the opportunity to express their own desires with dignity.


Photo: Adel Iskandar.

The interview with Abdallah was carried out by Ihab Hassan, a journalist at FRANCE 24.

Article written with
Dorothée Myriam kellou

Dorothée Myriam kellou , journaliste rédacteur arabophone