Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, woman activist who posted nude pictures of herself on her blog to protest limits on free expression has triggered an uproar in Egypt, drawing condemnations from conservatives and liberals alike.
She became an internet sensation on her blog, and later on Twitter with the hash tag nudephotorevolutionary.
Some liberals feared that the posting by 20-year-old university student Aliaa Magda Elmahdy would taint them in the eyes of deeply conservative Egyptians ahead of Nov. 28 parliamentary elections in which they are trying to compete with fundamentalist Islamic parties.
Nudity is strongly frowned upon in Egyptian society, even as an art form. Elmahdy’s posting is almost unheard of in a country where most women in the Muslim majority wear the headscarf and even those who don’t rarely wear clothes exposing the arms or legs in public.
Elmahdy wrote on her blog that the photographs, which show her standing wearing only stockings, are “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” The blog has received 1.5 million hits since she posted the photos earlier this week.
The posting comes at a time when Egypt, a nation of some 85 million people, is polarized between Islamists and liberals ahead of the elections, the first since the February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Members of the most hardline Islamic movement in Egypt, the Salafis, have warned voters during their campaigns that liberals will corrupt Egypt’s morals.
“This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue,” Sayyed el-Qimni, a prominent self-described secular figure, said referring to Islamists.
“It’s is a double disaster. Because I am liberal and I believe in the right of personal freedom, I can’t interfere,” el-Qimni said Wednesday night on one of Egypt’s popular TV political talk shows, “90 Minutes.”
The April 6 movement, one of the most prominent liberal activist groups that led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, issued a statement denying claims by some on the Web that Elmahdy is a member of the group.
The posting prompted furious discussions on Internet social media sites, with pages for and against her put up on Facebook.
This event was closely followed by an online campaign by a group of Israeli women in support.
Aptly titled, Homage to Aliaa el Mahdi, Sisters in Israel, the campaign is pictorially depicted with a bunch of nude Israeli women covering their private parts with a banner.
A feminist #Jan25 revolutionary posted her nude photo on the internet to express her freedom. I’m totally taken back by her bravery!! tweeted human rights activist Ahmad Awadalla. And many believe that if correctly utilised, nudity can be a powerful tool to get things done.
Dhillan Mowli, co- organiser, SlutWalk Bengaluru says, “Look at the kind of support she has drawn from other women. If nudity is projected aesthetically, it can have a stronger impact than words”.
At a time when women equality and gender bias is being scrutinised closely by many, the issue needs to be tackled with maturity. Salsa dancer Lourd Vijay says, “The above average, intelligent male would love to have a confident, self sustained partner. However, it is unnecessary to make a point by baring all. It makes many people very uncomfortable and works as a pressure tactic.”
Theatre artiste Nandini Rao agrees, “It’s very easy to dismiss such an act as a publicity gimmick. To avoid this, it must be followed up with a strong campaign, supported by facts. Take for instance the play Vagina Monologues. It affected people from the word go, but whoever has watched it, has praised it to no end! It was a revolution of sorts in the world of Indian theatre, which addressed an issue boldly.”
Aliaa’s act too, must go beyond the realm of social media attention, to produce desired results.