A 20-year-old Egyptian woman has caused a naked stir in her home country. In an act of defiance against her culture’s restrictive views on women and sexuality, she has been posting nude photos of herself on her blog, named “A Rebel’s Diary.”
Aliaa Maghda Elmahdy, an atheist and self-described “secular liberal feminist vegetarian individualist Egyptian,” posted the pictures as “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy,” the Associated Press reported.
The “screams” from “A Rebel’s Diary” currently feature a back and white photo of Elmahdy completely nude except for stockings. The only color in the portrait is her red bow and red slippers.
“I took my nude photo myself in my parents’ home,” Emily Esfahani Smith translated Elmahdy’s caption for The Daily Beast.
The blog offers numerous photos and artistic renderings of naked women and some men, a few engaged in sexual activity.
Continuing to scroll down the page, Elmahdy repeats her initial nude pose, this time covering her genitals, eyes and mouth with a yellow bar.
“The yellow rectangles on my eyes, mouth and sex organ resemble the censoring of our knowledge, expression and sexuality,” she wrote.
In a country where women are largely covered in veils, Elmahdy’s statement is loud and very clear. Its implications, however, are more vague. While Elmahdy’s online visuals horrify conservative religious Egyptians, liberals are divided between cheering her bravery and fearing election blowback in just ten days.
The AP notes that with Egypt set to hold parliamentary elections on November 28, some liberals are concerned her exhibitionism could scare the conservative country in the direction of more fundamentalist Islamic parties.
Her blog has racked up more than two million hits, but thousands of threats have followed.
Elmahdy’s blogger boyfriend Kareem Amer was jailed for declaring himself to be an atheist under Hosni Mubarak. He told Cyberdissidents.org that he is very proud of her.
“When Alia first published the nude picture online, it was a decision and a choice that she made on her own,” he said. “Should any harm come to her, I will stand by her side. I don’t know what I will be able to do because the specific repercussions are unclear. Some have threatened to sue us and inform the police. If she is brought under investigation, I will stand by her and do whatever I can to solve this situation peacefully.”
Sayyed el-Qimni, a secular Egyptian pundit, explained that Elmahdy could actually hurt the cause she is fighting for.
“This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue,” el-Qimni told the AP.
While she claims the mantle of freedom, Elmahdy’s move has not been popular. On her own Facebook page, a majority of respondents to a poll — 750 out of 1,141 — disagree with her.
The Twitterverse, convening under the hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary, is abuzz in an ongoing debate over Elmahdy’s pictorial middle finger to the culture.
“#nudephotorevolutionary #egypt So her blog has received over 1.5 million hits…But is it to see nudity or support the cause?” wondered Albert Petersen.
One woman scolded Elmahdy as an attention-seeker: “you’re using the cause, #WomensRights, to get attention. SHAME ON YOU! #Nudephotorevolutionary,” tweeted Heba Farouk Mahfouz.
Another took shots at the Web visitors sending Elmahdy’s traffic meter into the millions.
“All those ‘cool’ #egyptian men applauding #nudephotorevolutionary let me see the applause when ur wife,sister or girlfriend drops her pants!” tweeted May Abdel Asim.
Still others have been sympathetic to her cultural criticisms.
“Having dinner with friends and the #nudephotorevolutionary topic came up. Honestly, why care? If it bothers you, just don’t look. Simple,” tweeted Egyptocracy.
Smith ultimately cheers women like Elmahdy who, regardless of upcoming elections, shine a light on the foolishness of a culture lost in times past.
“Is she simply an exhibitionist? Perhaps. But even if she is, Egypt — both its male and female halves — will be better off with more bold and courageous women like Mahdy than under the rule of morbid chador fetishists,” wrote Smith.
A chador is a full-body-covering cloak with a head-hole at the top. It’s common outerwear in Iran and other Middle-eastern countries, and one way for Muslim women to observe the conservative Islamic hijab dress code.
“As a young woman who grew up in an open-minded Muslim household,” Smith added, “I delight in Mahdy’s complete irreverence toward the prudish Islamists who have corrupted Islam for decades and who are now trying to commandeer a revolution in Egypt, and the Arab world at large, that began as a call to freedom.”