By Guest Contributor Simba Rousseau, cross-posted from Witnessing Life
Twenty-year-old Egyptian blogger Magda Aliaa el-Mahdy rose to stardom after delivering a stick of dynamite via her blog, ‘A Rebel’s Diary’, in what she described as being in the spirit of the revolution.
(Editor’s Note: NSFW image is under the cut. – Arturo)
Who is Aliaa? Nowadays she’s known as the Nude Revolutionary and the dynamite was – you guessed it – a nude photo of herself online, which sparked outrage from both conservatives and liberals in Egypt alike. Here’s her take on why she took such controversial measures:
Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.
The North African country, with a population of roughly eighty-five million, is a largely conservative society.
Earlier this year, inspired by the wave of uprisings that struck the region following Tunisia’s ability to send their long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali packing, Egyptians from all social and political classes took to the streets with a unified dream of doing away with a system that had outlived its stay.
As punishment, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) subjected women to humiliating ‘virginity tests’, which entailed having a soldier insert two fingers into their croch. Once again, as discontent returned to Tahrir earlier this month, women’s bodies were targeted.
Women’s rights advocates like award-winning Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy believes that El Mahdy’s act not highlights how in times of extreme repression sex and nakedness becomes the only weapon of political repression for women. In a recent article in the Guardian, she argues:
When sexual assault parades as a test of the “honour” of virginity, then posing in your parents’ home in nothing but stockings, red shoes and a red hair clip is an attack towards all patriarchs out there.
While Mahdy’s act has been hashtagged (#NudePhotoRevolutionary) and her name tweeted and Facebooked endlessly, others did not receive such attention.
Samira Ibrahim, the only one of the women subjected to “virginity tests” who is taking the military to court for sexual assault, has neither a dedicated hashtag nor notoriety. Another woman, Salwa el-Husseini, was the first to reveal what the military did to them, but news reports have said she can’t raise a lawsuit because she doesn’t have identification papers.
Not only did el-Husseini speak out, she courageously agreed to be filmed at a session of testimonies on military abuses. Again, hardly anyone knows her name, her recorded testimony isn’t racking up page views, and she was called a liar and vilified for speaking out. Both women have vehemently maintained they were virgins.
If “good girls” in headscarves who kept their legs together only to be violated by the military speak out and no one listens, what’s the message being sent?
Whether or not El Mahdy’s act was revolutionary or not it has definitely sparked a debate as to how far women should go in pushing the boundaries in their fight for a more inclusive society.
One question that probably pops in your head is: had she been a man, would the publics reaction have been different?
Critics argue that the embattled blogger not only insulted revolution but has tarnished the uprisings image.
#nudephotorevolutionary was the most daring conflicting act I’ve seen for a long time but was also the worst thing that happened to the liberal movement in Egypt,” Kamel argued. “Her actions have done nothing but stir a debate and allow the conservatives to have one more reason to call for an Islamic state and blame liberals and seculars for this. You will probably see one of them saying this is how all women will act if Egypt isn’t saved by an Islamic leader.
In the aftermath of her public expression, El Mahdy has been slapped with a lawsuit as the Coalition of Islamic law graduates in Egypt filed a case against the blogger and her boyfriend, Kareem Amer who also appears nude on the site, for ‘violating morals, inciting indecency and insulating Islam’.
In her defense, supporters have established a Facebook page in which they vow to also get butt naked in an act of self-expression. According to Eltahawy, El Mahdy’s nudity was a way of extinguishing the ‘dictators of our mind’.
Perhaps, but is this the way to do it?
I remember when I was still living on the streets and working as a delivery person in New York City while cleaning houses on the side. The delivery service was a family run business and in the midst of being delighted to finally have someone pay me for once, I didn’t even consider that the $20 a day for over eight hours of work was meager. Then a good friend C told me to quit that job and go art model.
I thought she had lost her mind. Now, it’s not like you think. It actually entailed going around to art schools and posing.
To convince me she said, “once you drop the clothes, it’s done and you got a new career.”
The idea didn’t sound bad to me, especially after discovering that NYU paid a hefty $18 per hour and most classes were four hours long. The major feat was challenging a lot of societal mishaps in the process but eventually I saw this as a great way to rekindle the artist in me, revolutionize my thinking and love my body.
So, I did it. After some time I was the most sought after model circulating the art scene and I felt empowered, liberated and I was an entrepreneur.
I use this example in an attempt to paint a visual image of one way in which nudity was used to empower an individual.
However, in the case of Egypt’s nude revolutionary, my question to readers is: Is any time the right time for the clothes to come off when advocating women’s rights? Is this truly an act of self-expression?