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The following is from Boys for Sale. A Sociological Study of Boy Prostitution by Dennis Drew & Jonathan Drake, New York, 1969, pp. 54-8.



For all practical purposes, prostitution has been eliminated from modern Egypt, especially where tourists and young boys are concerned. Tourists are so thoroughly surveyed by the police in the larger cities that it is difficult for foreigners to engage in illicit activities. Nevertheless, the ancient traditions carry on undercover. Allen Edwardes, in The Jewel in the Lotus, (Lancer Books 1965 Edition, p. 244), writes: “Entering male prostitution in Egypt was quite elementary — one had only to be attractive. Boys of gypsy tribes were born into paederasty. Others, seized by slavers, were sold into it and not a few, dazzled by the allure of riches and esteem, broke into it by their own free will. Poverty accounted for a good deal of it and shame and discomfort were often its conditions but the zealous prostitute truly enjoyed his mode of existence.”

Presumably, such customs have continued without interruption from Roman times. Galbraith Welch, in North African Prelude, (Morrow, 1949, p, 97) tells of the “curious, lovely lewd things” to be seen in a much earlier epoch when for example, 1600 naked young boys danced along in one parade. Even in very early Egypt, boy dancers were always pictured nude. (See also M.A. Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, (London, 1948, p. 95.)

Egyptian singers and dancers, 19th century

Most of what is know about Egyptian boy prostitution, however, dates from the time that European visitors began to write of their Egyptian travels in recent years. Gerald de Nerval, in The Women of Cairo, (Harcourt-Brace, 1930, p. 65), speaks of the morality of Egyptians allowing dancing boys to be considered more respectable than dancing girls. Indeed, A.B. Clot-Bey says, in L’Egypt, (Paris 1840) that it was precisely to protect the honor of women that boys were taught and trained to dress as girls and to perform the prostitutional functions of the dancer. Edward Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, (Ward, London), says on page 351: “The boy dancers were beautified as women — their bodily hair removed and their head hair growing long. Their clothes were selected to accentuate their beauty.” In Cairo, these boys were called “ginks.” They were usually Jews, Armenians, Turks or Greeks. They were shameless in their ability to dance even more lasciviously than girls. Hendrick de Leeuw in Crosscurrents of the Mediterranean, (Garden City, 1954), says: “They were less inhibited because boys were less sophisticated.”

In their lovemaking, as in their dancing, boy prostitutes were eagerly erotic and lascivious. It is difficult for persons in the Western world today to realize how recently in time it was common, in Africa, for a man and his friends to be able to go to a coffee house for an evening of recreation and enjoy naked boys sporting for their pleasure — dancing, stripping, sitting on laps and withdrawing temporarily to more private quarters for sexual intercourse from time to time. M.V. Schoelcher, in I’Egypt en 1845, (Paris, 1946), says: in the cafes where they dance and promenade, it is common to see them sitting the laps of customers.” James A. St. John, in Egypt and Mohammed Ali, (London, 1834), concentrates on private catamites in the homes of wealthy Egyptians, but he also tells of the slave market where young and beautiful boys were purchased for private use as prostitutes. Many were kidnapped in their infancy and brought across the Mediterranean. St. John describes one on page 132: “A Greek or Georgian boy, aged nine, beautiful as an angel. His exquisite little mouth, his fair complexion, his dark eyes and firmly arched eyebrows, his smooth lofty forehead and ringlets — everything corresponded to enhance his loveliness.” Such boys were old hands at their trade by the time they were 9 or 10. St. John says: “Such boys display the utmost felicity and attachment towards their owners, but — degraded, humiliated, infamous, with no place save their master’s house to hide their heads — they are constrained to nourish some kind of attachment for that house, the only one where infamy is no bar to advancement.” St. John reported that there were about 10,000 such boys in Cairo.

Egyptians by Guglielmo Plüschow, ca. 1890

With the disappearance of these boys from the cafes and coffee houses, except in some back country towns (one was noted in Luxor in a backstreet cafe as recently as 1966,) boy prostitution has been confined to amateurs as far as the tourist or foreigner can discover. In many hotels, there is a teen or preteen elevator boy who is “available” and taxi drivers can suggest special houseboats along the Nile where a visit would be rewarding to a boy-seeker. It is still possible for a tourist going on a lengthy trip to engage a 12 or 13 year old boy along with a rented car and driver — if he has the right connections. Such boys, however, are rarely professional prostitutes. Their families, feeling no special shame in the practice, consider it fine for a boy to be able to travel and see the country in the company of a rich, educated foreigner. He and his family gain more money than would be possible working any other way. Such village families are, of course, quite poor. The boys, however amateur and inexperienced, are nearly always quite attractive and very zealous in their lovemaking.

The Oasis of Siwa is an interesting tourist spot in Egypt. For generations, it has been the tradition for Siwan fathers to “rent” their sons to other men. They still consider it an “honorable” arrangement. In Siwa, women are for procreation, boys for enjoyment. Older boys and men all enjoy the younger boys who in turn take it for granted that sexual intercourse for pay is part of the common lot of young boys. Presumably, the Egyptian government has been seeking to eliminate this ancient custom and Siwan boys were never readily available to the average tourist anyway — at least, not at Siwa. Some of the itinerant guides who took tourists into the western desert were often Siwans. Such guides (at least until recently) always had a 12- or 13-year old boy “in the wings” for those tourists who were interested in spicing up their treks across the sands.

Cairo shoeblacks, 1920s

Walter Cline in Notes on People of Siwa, (1936), says that Egyptian police forbade young boys to enter the men’s club houses when carousing — yet, the captain of the police force kept a young boy as his “male bride”. Men rent boys 12 through 16, he says, for 5 to 10 piasters a night — this is the equivalent of from 10 to 20 cents, which seems high as 5 cents is often enough elsewhere. “Some fathers rejoice,” p.42, “in their boys earning money this way, but in most cases the boy is actually prostituted by his mother.”

Boys may be either active or passive and are called the “women of the rich” because Siwan boys are more beautiful than the women. Parents wishing to keep their boys from men at a younger age, keep them dirty deliberately to reduce their attractiveness.

Until just a few years ago, it was child’s play to enjoy a 12-year-old boy near the main pyramids in Cairo. All one had to do was to speak to one of the guides who would then arrange a private corner in one of the ruins at a very modest rate.

Indeed, one guide in 1954, spoke to an American man who was travelling with a beautiful blond “son” of about thirteen. Pointing to a dark little Egyptian prostitute of about the same age, the guide said: “if we could but trade boys for a year, I would retire a rich man”. Among the darker peoples of the Near East, white-blond children have always been extremely popular. Until the independence of Greece, large numbers of catamites, boy dancers and prostitutes, were Greek children brought to Egypt by Turks.



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Don Shortall   18 August 2018

Fascinating. As a young Engineer cadet I went through the Suez Canal and and Port Said where the small “bum boats” came alongside the anchored ship. They literally had every kind of electrical radio/record player/cassette player and so on for sale in these small "bum boats".

It was a fascinating experience. The item was passed up the side of the ship by a light rope and after examination on-board, if satisfactory, the cash was wrapped around the same light rope and passed back down to the man on the boat, who always had a young boy, maybe a nephew, to help him.

I’ll always remember those occasions, which I experienced many times.

The expression always used to describe those small wooden crafts was "bum boats" and I sometimes wondered where that expression came from. It was, for me, an unusual way to describe them.

Any thoughts or ideas from anyone, who might help as to where it came from?

Thanks in advance

Anonymous 106, 17 October 2022

Those boats where easy to recognize - the rings on the waters surface around them.

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Officially you connot sell "bums" on the Suez canal, so the bizz is electronics and everything else is something private between the guy on the ship and the bumboat owner. What is controlled is that the bumboat man has paid the fee to the officials, wich also makes shure that no weapon or drug is sold. All that for making it possible to trade the bum in a controllable way.