Egyptian Feminist Blogger Draws Ire For Nude Photos
By Brittany Shoot on November 18, 2011
BlogHer Original Post
Twenty-year-old Aliaa Magda Elmahdy caused an uproar yesterday when the Egyptian college student posted nude photos of herself on her (very NSFW) blog, Rebel's Diary. Even in post-revolution Egypt, debates over censorship and gender discrimination are often heated. What can be said? Change takes a long time, and revolution doesn't happen in a day. At a particularly volatile time, Elmahdy threw herself into the fire very close to the upcoming parliamentary election, and some outlets are reporting that instead of promoting anti-sexist values and dialogue, she may have hurt her own cause. Liberal activists in Egypt have distanced themselves from her and fear it might cause significant backlash. From The New York Times:
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy apparently thought she was striking a blow for sexual equality and free expression in Egypt when she posted nude photographs of herself on a blog. Instead Ms. Elmahdy set off a wave of outrage here, stoking conservative Islamist sentiments that many liberals fear will undermine their prospects in the country’s parliamentary election next week.
According to the AP story, Elmahdy calls the photos "screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy." The photos also depict a naked man and a heterosexual couple engaged in what looks (to this Western feminist) like some sexy fun.
This isn't the first time Elmahdy has been at the center of a censorship controversy. Last year, she and her boyfriend, Kareem Amer, were kicked out of a public park for PDA. Amer also spent four years in prison for writings regarded as insulting to Islam and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek.
But are Elmahdy's actions truly part of a feminist revolution? At least one prominent Egyptian feminist disagrees and called Elmahdy out. Via Jezebel:
Women's rights activist Nehad Abou el-Qomsan complained about the group, who she says, "keep adding layers to cover up the women and deny their existence," but she simultaneously criticized Elmahdy's actions "because posing nude is a form of body abuse."
Calling a nude pose "body abuse" seems extreme and even a bit body-snarky, but is it also true, given the context?
Especially at a time when SlutWalks continue to make international headlines, it's important to consider how powerful a simple gendered slur or a bit of bared skin can be within a specific framework. Last month, there was an uproar in Tunisia when the graphic novel turned animated film, Persepolis, was shown on TV. The film includes a single scene in which the main character, a young girl living in post-revolutionary Iran, rails against God.
Elmahdy's actions may not seem like a step forward for some feminists, but the context in which she disrobed is wraught with complications. Perhaps forcing the issue will eventually pay off.
Do you think Elmahdy was courageous or naive to post the photos?