Since the 1980s, an explosion in state, international, and nongovernmental campaigns and programs propose to increase women’s rights and protections in Arab countries. Women and women’s rights activists often invite and appeal to male-dominated states to regulate, intervene, or change the rules in sexual and family life in order to address a range of problems and challenges, including lack of economic and other resources, political and citizenship exclusions, or intimate violence. What are the implications of relying on states as the main arbiters of rights and protections? This is a longstanding feminist question whose answer hinges on underlying assumptions and theories about states and governance. Reliance on states as the primary sources of protection and support in intimate life has largely worked to rearticulate gendered, economic, and other inequitable power relations, bolster states, reconstitute state authority over intimate domains, and limit possibilities for gendered, sexual, and kin subjectivities and affinities. This dynamic may be metaphorically described as a “devil’s bargain” since state-delivered rights and protections in these realms are so often attached to important restrictions and foreclosures. The article conceptually and theoretically expands on my research on family law projects in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in Consuming Desires: Family Crisis and the State in the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2011). Its title is inspired by Deniz Kandiyoti’s influential article, “Bargaining with Patriarchy” (Gender & Society, 1988), which I re-engage for analytical purposes.

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