By Colombo Telegraph –
Wearing nothing but a pair of stockings, red ribbon in her hair and a pair of flat red shoes, the black and white shot would not look out of place in a nude photography book.
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a 20-year old university student from Cairo, has sparked outrage in the Middle East with the controversial full-length image, posted on her blog October 23, 2011. But this is no ordinary art project. It is the work of a feminist Egyptian activist who is making a bold and potentially dangerous statement.
It has since received 3 million hits and thousands flooded the site with insults. Some denounced Elmahdy as a ‘prostitute’ and ‘mentally sick’ or urged police to arrest her. Elmahdy’s posting is almost unheard of in a country where nudity is strongly frowned upon – even as an art form and could lead to her being jailed.
Most women in the Muslim majority Egypt wear the headscarf and even those who don’t rarely wear clothes exposing the arms or legs in public. On her arabic blog, Aliaa defends her actions, writing: ‘Hide all art books and smash naked archaeological statues. ‘Then take off your clothes and look at yourselves in the mirror, then burn your body that you so despise to get rid of your sexual complexes forever, before subjecting me to your bigoted insults or denying my freedom of expression.’
But her attempts at protesting limits on free expression may have backfired. Rather than garner support from the Liberals hoping to win the November 28th election, they are keen to distance themselves from the blogger. They fear she will taint them in the eyes of deeply conservative Egyptians and, ruining their chances at competing with fundamentalist Islamic parties.
Egypt, a nation of some 85 million people, is polarised between Islamists and liberals ahead of the elections, the first since the February downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Members of the most hardline Islamic movement, the Salafis, have warned voters that liberals will corrupt Egypt’s morals. ‘This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue,’ Sayyed el-Qimni, a prominent self-described secular figure, said referring to Islamists. ‘It’s is a double disaster. Because I am liberal and I believe in the right of personal freedom, I can’t interfere,’ El-Qimni said on Egyptian TV. The April 6 movement, one of the most prominent liberal activist groups that led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, issued a statement denying claims by some on the web that Elmahdy is a member of the group.
The posting prompted furious discussions on internet social media sites, with pages for and against her put up on Facebook. One activist, Ahmed Awadallah, praised her in a Tweet, writing, ‘I’m totally taken back by her bravery.’ A supporter, who identified himself as Emad Nasr Zikri, wrote in a comment on Elmahdy’s blog, ‘We need to learn how to separate between nudity and sex.’ He said that before fundamentalist influence in Egypt, ‘there were nude models in art school for students to draw’.
Elmahdy and her boyfriend Kareem Amer, also a controversial blogger, have challenged Egypt’s social conventions before.
Earlier this year, they posted mobile phone video footage of themselves debating with managers of a public park who threw them out for public displays of affection.
Amer spent four years in prison for blog posting deemed insulting to Islam and for calling Mubarak a ‘symbol of tyranny’.