Courageous or suicidal? Freedom fighter or provocateur? Feminist or flirt? Aliaa Almadhy, a young Egyptian woman who posted a nude photo of herself on her blog, has become the topic of discussion on the internet in Egypt. Her fame is meanwhile spreading throughout the Arab world and the world-wide blogosphere. Her actions, in a conservative country on the eve of a historic victory for Islamist groups, both astonish and beckon.
The photo has a very artsy air: Aliaa Almahdy is standing, her face fully shown, wearing ballerina tights with one foot on a stool, and a scrunchie in her hair. The black and white shot is enlivened up by the vibrantly red ballerina shoes, and the coloured scrunchie. In another shot, below, again coloured, poses a thoughtful man holding a guitar.
In a short text posted between the two photographs, Aliaa, who introduces herself as a student of media and communication, expresses regret that nude models are prohibited entry into the faculty of fine arts, that art books are purged of nudity, and that antique statues are broken. She fearlessly proclaims “freedom of expression.” Aliaa Almahdy, whose blog is entitled “Calm Confessions,” proclaims “atheist and individualist.” She campaigns “against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment, and hypocrisy.”
She had already created a sensation on November 1 (2011), when she asked men to veil themselves. Many men, essentially westerners, had posted their photo, with a sail, on her home page, as a sign of solidarity.
The Context Surrounding the Radicalization of Religious Discourse
Aliaa isn’t a political blogger, but a campaigner for personal freedom. “I have the right to live freely anywhere,” she proclaims. Her step is unprecedented. She has sparked off an avalanche of criticism but has also generated words of support. The Egyptian press has mirrored this proclamation and these debates without reproducing the photograph of Aliaa Almahdy.
For now, the young woman has not been subjected to a campaign by the Salafists, or fundamental Muslims who have become more and more prominent and influential since the February revolution which drove out President Hosni Mubarak. In the current context, with the radicalization of religious discourse, many bloggers have expressed fear for Aliaa’s life. Calling herself an atheist and revealing her body breaks two basic taboos in Egyptian society.
On the other hand, Aliaa Alhmady’s actions and the support she has received speaks to a growing divide and an increasing individualization in Egyptian society. More and more youths, many commitment to the spirit of the revolution, are proclaiming fearlessly for the right to live and think however so they please.
Aliaa Alhmady is also the girlfriend of Karim Amer. The latter, a native of Alexandria, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007 for “insulting Islam” after criticizing the University of Al-Azhar, the icon of official Islam in Egypt, of drifting toward fundamentalism.
From “Une jeune Egyptienne pose nue pour denoncer l’obscurantism,” by Christophe Ayad, in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 15, 2011.
Translated into English by Randeep Purewall.