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Defiant Elmahdy: Do I have to be naked for you to notice me?

Rebel, activist, blogger, disgrace, un-Islamic, and freedom fighter are only some of the ways Egyptian Aliaa Magda Elmahdy has been described.

What do I call her? Fearless.

The 20 year old Egyptian nude poser has received global criticism over the last week for her recently released naked picture.The picture sparked national and international controversy because she posted a nude image of herself on her blog in a society where nudity and sexual freedom is frowned upon.  She states that the pictures are “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”

Many Egyptian women wear a veil and abide by the patriarchal public morality but Elmahdy’s picture completely disregards that order. It acts as a resentful response to the years of gender oppression women have faced in Egypt.

With this picture, Elmahdy is openly defying the Egyptian system and societal norms, setting off a wave of outrage in her country. The outrage is challenging the masculine hard-line Islamists in Egypt who have been running the country for the last 30 years and are currently trying to secure power. In a country that is going through a full on revolution, the timing of this picture could not be any more controversial for the scheduled elections next week. How liberal are the liberals?

Elmahdy is testing her civil freedoms within political parties while addressing gender apartheid. This desperate request for equality and freedom opens the doors for much broader issues. The bold picture is confronting tyranny and the leaders of her country who treat women like second-class citizens.

To understand how poorly some women are treated in Egypt we can point to the most recent example where the military carried out a manual, two finger “virginity tests” on young female protesters. This is rape. It is a way for the military to prove their power and humiliate women on the public front.  But Elmahdy is fiercely defying this system and challenging the status quo.

This is not the average act of protest but it is powerful one. She is not running through Tahrir Square to make her statement; her message is simple and clear: “I have the power of my body, not you.”

With less than a week away from elections, the 20 year old Elmahdy is indirectly questioning the Egyptian society to re-think the future of Egypt. The criticism and lack of support she has received begs the unmasking of the liberal political ambitions with the elections next week.

Elmahdy is allegedly facing a court case over the image. Whether she is facing charges over adultery or insulting Islam is not clear yet but this picture cuts to the bottom line “give me my freedom.”

In her recent interview with CNN, Elmahdy said “the (sexism) against women in Egypt is unreal, but I am not going anywhere and will battle it ’til the end.”

Is Egypt ready for this level of liberalism? As a self-proclaimed Atheist, should Elmahdy be punished under Islamic law? Is this scream for freedom disrespecting cultural values? Can the human body be a viable threat to the authorities?

More information: tweet with hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary or support her Facebook page

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  1. I cannot pretend to understand the cultural implications and sensitivities of Aliaa’s actions; from an American perspective it’s not alarming or revolutionary-but by Egyptian standards it is, apparently, rather disturbing! Well I can only admire her strength, courage, bravery, determination and passion! The international community must watch over Aliaa and ensure her well-being…God bless her and keep her safe and well…

    • DCP – you are exactly right. the international community needs to keep an eye out for her so that she doesn’t all of a sudden “disappear.” We need to protect her by keeping her case in the spotlight. I will be keep you updated with her whereabouts. Thanks again for your comment.

  2. Revolution is exactly the right time for these kinds of statements to be made. The first step is only in the process of being made. If the Egyptian people are to enjoy TRUE democracy, then TOTAL ANARCHY from any form of government must be acheived first. Once this happens, then leaders must be chosen from the common people, not the already existing social elite. During this period of anarchy is when political statements should be made to determine social norms specific to the population of the region. This young girl has made a statement and should continue until the people she represents can stand and be counted to determine if their values can be integrated into society. She’s very brave.

    • Kevin, thanks for your comment. I think Aliaa’s picture demonstrates the clear despair for change in Egypt. It is a scream for freedom and change. I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” type of solution to what we are witnessing in the Middle East. I am not sure what the future holds for Egypt but I think they have done a great job so far showing who is in power; the people. The SCAF may have the arms control but the people have the manpower. Their success in driving Mubarak out has given them the hope and feeling to soon drive the SCAF out too. It is only a matter of time where Egypt will be able to enjoy their true democracy but patience is key because this is not about satisfying some 1000 people, this is about satisfying all Egyptians through free and fair elections. Aliaa is only one example of the pain that the Egyptian people are enduring. Hopefully she will give others hope to also express their pain and anger.

  3. This is a very thought provoking article, while this young woman has put her life in danger to proof something; freedom comes first. Women in Iran are also tired of all the restrictions that the regime of mullahs are putting on them, however women everywhere in the middle east are in need / have to work for a total change of attitudes. Keep writing interesting articles like this.

    • Hi Mojgan – thanks for your comments. I agree, I think many women in the Middle East share the same pain and despair for freedom. Hopefully with more dialogue and attention on these topics, we will one day see the change they want. Time and patience will be key ingredients for the best results.

  4. I regret that Aliaa’s picture is cesured on this page

    • Claude, thank you for reading. I chose not to display her full nude picture as I support Elmahdy through my words. Her picture is not difficult to find online and I wanted to keep this article friendly for work and family settings as well.

      • Thank you for your reply and my question was not of course to see her naked or not and yes, the picture is on the net. nudity is not unfriendly to me but yes, I do understand your point of vue but in this case I would have taken another picture of her instead of censuring her action. That way you keep your way of expression but do not alter hers. Just my humble opinion.

  5. I think that Aliaa has an opened mind , but sorry for her we are living between egyptain people

  6. Civil disobedience is admirable. And it is a great social story & study. What does a woman need to do to get noticed? May she be safe.

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