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Egyptian Blogger Aliaa Elmahdy: Rebel with a Cause?

By now if you have been keeping up with the ‘Arab Awakening,’ you have probably heard of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, the 20-year-old Egyptian blogger who posted a nude photo of herself. For those of you not familiar with the story, Elmahdy posted the photo as an act of expression against the ‘norm’ found in the traditionally Muslim society in Egypt. She was formerly a student at the American University in Cairo majoring in communications, dropping out this past spring. Elmahdy is known for being the girlfriend of Kareem Amer, another controversial blogger who was famously arrested under the Mubarak regime for criticizing Islam and calling the then-President a “symbol of tyranny”.

Since posting the photo (Here’s the link, I know you’re curious:http://arebelsdiary.blogspot.com/?zx=29c88c33b29d339c), a lawsuit has been filed against Elmahdy and her boyfriend Amer by a group lawyers for “violating morals, inciting indecency and insulting Islam,” in the Arab World’s most populous country.

This op-ed is a critique of Elmahdy’s work of art or political message; whatever she intended it to be.

It is important to note that since uploading this photo to her blog and then Twitter under the hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary, she has continuously altered her blog’s photos and posts. It has become difficult to decipher her original message, which was an act to protest the lack of freedom of expression in Egypt. It is as if she questions her own ideas and beliefs, because of these sudden alterations.

Even if that is not a legitimate argument, what ceases to amaze us is the style of the photo. It is a nude photo of Elmahdy in thigh-high stockings, a red flower and shoes. Her justification in an interview with CNN is, “The photo is an expression of my being and I see the human body as the best artistic representation of that. I took the photo myself using a timer on my personal camera. The powerful colors black and red inspire me.” Elmahdy also points out that she was never political, and only got involved in Egypt’s Revolution after May 27th because of a need to participate in hopes of changing Egypt.

According to an interview with Amer, the photo was taken before they were dating, which means the photo was not taken with the intent of making a political statement. Elmahdy goes on to say on her blog (Prior to deleting it) that the photo “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” But just exactly how does the photo ‘scream’ against racism or violence? The other points are understandable, although a very shallow attempt at such.

Some of us have been subject to various ad campaigns for different political causes in countries abroad. Take PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) nude celebrity ad campaign against wearing fur, which is done very tastefully. If you are going to attack the institution, get chained up, blindfold in the nude and then perhaps even hold a sign to make the message clear. If you are attempting to evaluate commoditized sexuality or the Middle East version of it, perhaps do it in a matter that is not so lousy. This is reinforcing society’s view of the problem and especially gives a greater opportunity to those who go against your values, adding fuel to the fire.

Yes, women’s rights are a deeply important issue in Egyptian society as it can be extremely sexist at times. Often, physical and verbal harassment can make it unbearable to walk in the street, regardless of wearing hejab or not. However, it is important to know women are not the only people who are not being given their rights – human rights in general is very faulty in Egypt. It is integral to exercise the concept of human rights first, then explore its branches, especially the issue of women’s rights.

We remind you that it is completely understandable that Egyptian women need to get out and speak their mind on these issues. From the amount of media coverage, it is evident that she was able to reach a lot of people in Egypt and across the world. Her photo did generate a lot of debate, but on the contrary, it was mostly about Elmahdy and what she really intended by posting the photo. Unfortunately, this was used as ammunition against the liberals in the upcoming parliamentary elections on Monday, as the Islamists have cited it as a further reason to Islamify Egypt. Elmahdy has stated that she has very little concern with the time of the photo, but the timing hurt more than it helped the situation.

This was not written against Aliaa Elmahdy, but to ask you to look a little deeper into her “revolutionary” message. As two young women living in Egypt and as spectators of the on going January 25th Revolution, we felt it was is our prerogative to voice our opinions about the message she brings to the table of Egyptian politics.


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