Aliaa Magda Elmahdy isn’t new to controversy. She and her boyfriend Kareem Amir were thrown out of a public park for engaging in public displays of affection earlier this year. Elmahdy responded to the incident by posting a video of the two of them arguing with the park managers who expelled them. That seems mild now.
To protest limitations on free expression in Egypt, Elmahdy recently stripped down to a pair of stockings, photographed herself and posted the full frontal pics on her blog site. Widely condemned by Islamic fundamentalists and secular liberals alike, the site has had more than 1.5 million hits since the posting. Guess people want to see what they’re criticizing.
The photos are so shocking in Egyptian society that virtually no one wants to be associated with her as elections approach. One of the accusations from fundamentalist parties has been that the election of secularists will corrupt Egypt’s morals. In that context, the pictures are deemed not helpful by liberal political forces in the country. The April 6 Movement, a prominent liberal activist group involved in the 18-day uprising last spring, felt compelled to openly deny that Elmahdy is a member of the group.
The fundamentalists are repersented is some of their extreme forms by the Salafis. Their perception of the role of women includes taking out photographs of women running for office in campaign posters and replacing the pictures with drawings of flowers. At a rally in Alexandria, Salafis covered public statues of mermaids. They advocate a form of gender segregation similar to that employed in Saudi Arabia and a clearly subservient role for women.
Elmahdy is not without her supporters. Ahmed Awadallah, a liberal activist said, “I’m totally taken back by her bravery” in response to the posting. But, the greatest reaction has been negative, even among liberals. Some have gone so far as to call her a prostitute or mentally ill and to call for her arrest.
Boyfriend Amir summed up his response to the reaction of liberal politicians, saying
“I think we should not be afraid of those in power or Islamists, as much as we should be worried of politicians claiming to be liberal…They are ready to sacrifice us to avoid tarnishing their image.”
Finally, here’s a dilemma I’ll share with TMV readers. In researching this article, I’ve looked at WaPo, NY Daily News, HuffPo and UK-IPTimes. Some have photos of Elmahdy with their articles, some have no photo, but none has had the courage to use one of the controversial photos she posted. What photo, if any, should I post with this article should I choose to edit it later to include a pic? If you choose to comment on that, please keep in mind the sensitivities of others. Thank you.