Sun, Nov 20, 2011 | By Crethi Plethi
Aliaa ElMahdy is not afraid of being a woman despite harassment in Egypt
Aliaa Magda ElMahdy, a 20-year-old blogger and female activist, sparked controversy and attracted both criticism and admiration in Egypt after posting a nude photo she took of herself online. Now she also faces lawsuits filed against her.
According to AhramOnline the Coalition of Islamic law graduates reported Aliaa ElMahdy and her boyfriend, blogger Karim Amer, to the general prosecutor on Thursday [17 nov], accusing them of “violating morals, inciting indecency and insulting Islam,” demanding that they be punished according to Islamic law [Sharia].
The report, published in full on the coalition’s Facebook page, said the activist posted a nude picture of herself “trying to spread her obscene ideology through the nude pictures … The old constitution and the new declarations of the new one says Islamic law [Sharia] is the source of governing, therefore we asked for Islamic law penalties to be executed on the two bloggers … The sentence could be lashes, time in prison or what they see fit,” Ahmed Yehia, coordinator of the coalition told Bikyamasr.com.
Adultery is punishable in Islam with 80 lashes in public, while insulting Islam could receive the death penalty.
Another lawyer, Nafisa Abdel Fatah, reported ElMahdy and Amer to the general prosecutor Friday [18 nov], also accusing them of spreading immorality. Abdel Fatah apparently told Youm7 website that El-Mahdy and Amer encouraged the spread of the nude photo, aside from being lovers outside of wedlock in defiance of Islamic and social traditions.
According to AhramOnline, she was also criticized by liberal writer Siyad El-Qamni, describing her as a mentally disturbed girl. But ElMahdy responded at her Twitter account, describing him as a “coward” who backed off from his liberal opinions when he received threats from radical Islamists.
It’s clear that nudity — even in aspects of art and photography — is harsly forbidden in a conservative Muslim country based on Islamic fundaments where most women wear the veil but that’s exactly the point ElMahdy is trying to make. When she uploaded the images — one of which had yellow rectangles on eyes, mouth and sex organ — in October she was “echoing screams against an [Islamic] society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”
“The yellow rectangles on my eyes, mouth and sex organ resemble the censoring of our knowledge, expression and sexuality,” she said.
Now ElMahdy explaines in an interview at CNN why she posted the nude pictures online:
“After my photo was removed from Facebook, a male friend of mine asked me if he may post it on Twitter. I accepted because I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman … The photo is an expression of my being and I see the human body as the best artistic representation of that.”
On her Twitter account ElMahdy wrote that she is an atheist since she was 16 and “I took my nude photo myself in my parent’s home months before I met Kareem Amer.” She has been living for the past five months with her boyfriend, blogger Kareem Amer, who, in 2006 was sentenced to four years in a maximum security prison for criticizing Islam and defaming former president Hosni Mubarak.
Aliaa ElMahdy continues:
“I like being different. I love life, art, photography and expressing my thoughts through writing more than anything. That is why I studied media … so I can expose the truth behind the lies we endure everyday in this world. I don’t believe that we must have children only through marriage. It’s all about love.”
“I was never into politics. I first joined the protests on May 27th because I felt the need to participate and decided I might be able to change the future of Egypt and refused to remain silent … What shocked me is April 6th Movement‘s statement how they don’t accept “atheism.” Where is the democracy and liberalism they preach to the world? They only feed what the public wants to hear for their political ambitions.”
ElMahdy feels supported by her Egyptian Muslim parents, but they accuse Aliaa’s boyfriend (Kareem) of manipulating her which she denies.
ElMahdy told CNN she considers the forced virginity tests performed by the Egyptian military on more than a dozen girls arrested in Tahrir Square as rape.
“Those men in the military who conducted these tests should be punished for allowing this to happen without the consent of the girls in the first place.”
About her own “sexual revolution” she told CNN:
“Most Egyptians are secretive about sex because they are brought up thinking sex is something bad and dirty and there is no mention of it in schools. Sex to the majority is simply a man using a woman with no communication between them and children are just part of an equation. To me, sex is an expression of respect, a passion for love that culminates into sex to please both sides.”
“I do practice safe sex but I don’t take pills because I am against abortion. I enjoyed losing my virginity at the age of 18 with a man I loved who was 40 years older than me. Kareem Amer is the second man and the love of my life.”
ElMahdy is not very hopefull when it comes to the future of women or minorities in the “new Egypt” and she blames Egypt’s conservative [Islamic] society:
“I am not positive at all unless a social revolution erupts. Women under Islam will always be objects to use at home. The (sexism) against women in Egypt is unreal, but I am not going anywhere and will battle it ’til the end. Many women wear the veil just to escape the harassment and be able to walk the streets. I hate how society labels gays and lesbians as abnormal people. Different is not abnormal!”
In the Western world, a woman posting nude photos of herself online is only using her freedom of expression. In post-Mubarak Egypt, facing a rise in Salafi and Islamist influence, it’s a revolutionary act which could result in severe punishment or even death but Aliaa Magda ElMahdy isn’t afraid:
“I am a believer of every word I say and I am willing to live in danger under the many threats I receive in order to obtain the real freedom all Egyptian are fighting and dying for daily.”
ElMahdy wrote on her blog that publishing the photo was her right and an expression of freedom:
“I have the right to live freely in any place… I feel happy and self satisfied when I feel that I’m really free,” she said.