The Nude Revolution in Egypt

So an art student named Aliaa Magda Elmahdy in Egypt decided to post nude photos of herself on her blog to “defy restrictions on freedom” and Twitter basically explodes. (Seriously – check the #NudePhotoRevolutionary hashtag and the tweets culled by this Lebanese site or Google her name.)

Anyway, she allegedly identified herself as a part of the April 6 movement (I wrote about them here for AIAC) and while the April 6 movement folks jumped to defend their morality (or something), she denied ever having claimed to be part of the movement. Regardless of whether she did claim to be part of their movement or not, the April 6 response is pretty paranoid (not to mention extremely offensive). A spokesman for April 6 stated,

The movement does not have any members who engage in such behavior and the girl is only an agent of State Security. They want to tarnish our image after our role during the revolution and the increasing support we get from the Egyptian people.

For real?

Do you all not honestly remember the anonymous Egyptian general who defended  the army’s “virginity checks” and torture of at least 17 female activists with this little gem?

The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).

We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” the general said. He added: “None of them were (virgins).”

Looks like April 6 is totally cool allying themselves with State Security when it comes to being patriarchal jerks.

But some of the commentary about these photos from the West is equally perplexing. Fears of “Islamism” and ‘women dressing more conservatively’ (??) give way to some truly bizarre denials of the West’s own patriarchy and conservatism. For instance, this, from the NY Daily News:

While placing provocative pictures on the Web rarely raise eyebrows in the West, in an increasingly conservative Egypt what Elmahdy did is an unprecedented act of defiance.

Oh brother. Doesn’t anyone watch Egyptian music videos anymore?

Comments

comments

Sophia Azeb

Sophia Azeb is a writer and scholar based at the University of Southern California. She tweets as @brownisthecolor.

29 Comments
  1. “Nude -revolution”? Please! More like seeking 15 min. of fame. Although I do not deny, that women in that region have legitimate cause to fight for their rights, this is not the way to achieve, in fact it will set back the work of women’s rights, and the small victories gained so far. No doubt, her political opponents will use this to distract most important issue facing the country: the end of military rule.

    Let’s also remember this girl is only 20 years old, and most likely she is not familiar with names like Rosa Parks or Aung Suu Kyi. These are the women who will end up setting on table with the military junta.

      1. Thank you Tayat, I appreciate that.

        And your initial comment brings up some interesting paradoxes, which I hope you don’t mind I’d like to address.

        First, all women, everywhere, have legitimate cause to fight for their *human* rights. That’s part of the reason I looked at examples of patriarchy AND the denial of patriarchy in this post. Commentators in the global North have a particularly bad habit of orientalizing SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) in the name of ‘protecting brown women from brown men.’ As though women in the global North are not subject to patriarchal violence as well!

        But our agreement on the pernicious reality of patriarchy aside, why shouldn’t this young woman (not girl) bare all if that’s what her artwork, politics, and feminist ideology engage? I agree in that I don’t know if it will change anything, but should that mean she deserves to be shamed by other women for doing so? There are many feminisms. Your own might not be Aliaa’s, and mine might not be either, but that doesn’t make any less legitimate. At the very least, she successfully sparked another conversation on how patriarchy works to perpetuate itself and the multiplicity of liberations women seek.

        Lastly, in terms of her ‘political enemies’ or whether ‘women like this’ work alongside the military regime… that only echoes the paranoia of April 6’s misogynistic statement. Let’s not justify the anti-women “politics of respectability” with assertions like that (as you’ll recall, Rosa Parks’ case was selected by anti-segregation legal counsel to be pursued because the first arrestees were not ‘respectable’ enough to withstand media attention without ‘harming’ the case – women of colour were, and are still, expected to be unrealistically ‘moral’ and ‘pure’ in order to have *legitimate* claims to justice).

  2. This is totally against Islam and Islamic conceptualism. It’s not about freedom or stuff. She is creating a havoc and producing a bad image rather nude image of entire muslim community. If she’s so much into vulgarity she should move to some western country. But root of problem is paradox created by Showbiz circle which you excellently highlighted. Such duality should be closed. Rather full Islamism should be imposed

    1. Vulgarity is a universal phenomenon but not the vulgarity of the nude, which when overly demonized when in the female nude further illuminates gender inequality, but the vulgarity of oppression, whether that oppression is at the hand of Christian or Islamic, Capitalist or Communist, Democratic or Authoritarian regimes. This is the vulgarity that must be checked, the vulgarity of oppression.

      What duality are you referring to? What full Islamism do you refer to? Whose Islam, Sunni or Shiit, Hanbali or Maliki, Sufism or Salafism, etc? Until free dialogue and equal participation is enshrined in social practice any imposition of any system is akin to oppression, and this is vulgar.

    1. That’s exactly something Beelzebub would say to make bad sound good. God made opium, and metal for bullets, is He not pleased by that? Women should repspect their bodies and not cheapin what God gave them by turning their bodies into window displays. Misusing what God has given us is the problem.

      1. To: UsneakydevilU

        The Opium flower is beautiful and not harmful in itself and so is metal. How they are used is a choice made by man and not by God.
        In the same sense as a flower the human body is beautiful and if you believe in God you also believe that God created the human body, female as well as male.

        So who is the one trying to twist things? In a way one can say that you are twisting Gods creation and mixing it up with mans choice and actions.

      2. Hello there!

        Hear what I want to share with all who do not know the truth about being a humankind. Although people know God, they don’t glorify Him as God. The holy word of God says: .. God gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves (Holy Bible: Romans 1:24).

  3. I’m studying the Egyptian Spring, and the 6 April Movement is usually romantically described as the vanguard of student civil society. It’s really eye opening to see the comparison between their stances and the state security apparatus.

    On the other hand, while I am sympathetic to the need for free speech and expression, Egyptian culture is still fairly conservative and can only be expected to change so much in so little time. It wasn’t until the later 20th century that sexuality was completely acceptable in Western media, and even still it gets criticized by some social sectors. I think this blogger was perhaps too provocative too soon.

    1. I don’t think there is such a thing as “too provocative too soon”. Surely being ‘more reasonably provocative’ would lose the meaning of provocation altogether? And, about your previous point on Egyptian culture: I don’t think she’s trying to change Egyptian society at the drop of a hat, or for that matter expected it to have been changed when she posted her photograph. However, this is a time for change in Egypt, and if she’s got the guts that it takes to do something like that at a time like this, I can only commend her for her bravery. She brings the idea of expression to whole new levels. Revolution DOES NOT have to be aggressive, in fact, it can be an act of total vulnerability.

      1. I see what shes doing, and appreciate that its in the name of free expression. In the end it comes down to an irrelevant side show to the main action of the Egyptian revolution. Iits just not a pragmatic move on her part to subject herself to such mortal danger in the name of abstract ideals that do not resonate with the overwhelming majority of Egyptians. In Egypt’s current state of media repression, I think it would be much more fruitful to agitate for the right of free political expression, and perhaps wait until later for more abstract expressions of free speech such as this one.

  4. When the Almighty made woman he gave woman double the time in given to man
    in her purpose // her trials tribulations would be great / she would be subjected to
    the wrath of the heartless in slavery to the rich / tortured by the religious fanatics.

    If woman wishes to disrobe in revealing the physical beauty of gods work / it then
    being the work of the greatest artist shown / one can only but applaud such work.

    It being in mercy the Almighty granted the female in a brain with the greater ability
    that her understanding in taking her through / the darkest hours within humanities
    development // that in time with the development of the brain // with an opening of
    heart in understanding / experience of the spiritual self in reaching enlightenment.

    In time the human journey not a mystery but fully being understood / experienced
    thus a time in knowing the spiritual self in all its glory / as one in praising Almighty.

  5. “…what Elmahdy did is an unprecedented act of defiance.” I agree with this completely. In a country that has just seen a revolution, and has helped spark revolutions in the Middle East and across the Global dashboard, what we have seen this woman do is, until this point, unprecedented. And should it be a surprise that it happens first in Egypt? The spirit that has taken hold of the people, and the determination with which they saw Mubarak fall (-18 days of hell) is burning strong still. Aside from all of the social commentaries that she is making, this woman has proven that it does not take aggression to create a powerful act of defiance. Further still, she hasn’t just provoked the Islamic parties, she’s provoked the alleged ‘revolutionaries’ too.

  6. Ms Azeb,
    the crime of this young woman was simply public exhibitionism. Islam is very anti public exhibition, they are not bothered by her being naked, in my view. They are bothered by her exhibiting nakedness in public. Music vidoes can be raunchy because they are in the home. That is acceptable by Islam because it is not outside. I have been to Muslim countries, and you dont see pictures of the video girls outside.
    And, I think the point made by the reaction to her actions is the problem of reactionary Islam. Islam reacts to the European society. The Knights Templar cut heads off and Islam mimicked, violence for violence. The Shah, Nassar, Ataturk, all were men in love with the culture outside of Islam, so Ayatollah and the muslim brotherhood and others come and fall in love with culture in Islam that is not linked to Europe.
    Most people don’t know European chivalry comes from Islamic (even though it can be argued as to whether it is Islam [religion race] or African[geographic race] or Black[colored race] that should take the credit) courts as well as the dress of maidens, but I will get back to my point. So, Islam is reactionary, extremely reactionary and thus its biggest problem.
    The biggest problem in the Muslim world is that it doesnt act for its own betterment, but acts to deny the power of the European society within it. Is the problem with her nakedness that women in Europe are publicly naked often or that it is against the will of Allah?
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/9173957/about_ecopolitics_nov_21st_2011.html?cat=3

    1. When the Almighty gave depth in understanding that brought
      the Koran ( WHICH THE SACRED BOOK OF ISLAM ) COMPOSED OF
      WRITINGS ACCEPTED BY MUSLIMS AS REVELATIONS MADE UNTO….
      MUHAMMAD BY ALLAH THROUGH THE ANGEL GABRIEL…. It much to
      the mercy of MUHAMMAD in his writings bringing an union of christianity // thus giving relations unto his revelations
      in a way that through the kindness of his heart / humility.

      Yet in reality the revelations as given to MUHAMMAD having
      nought to do with christianity / but being from the source
      of creation a aim of freeing people from material illusion
      not further trap people in the illusion. Christianity but
      became a mixture of ideas beliefs a means where a few are
      abled control many /through religious nonsensical fantasy.

      As with christianity heaven is somewhere beyond the clouds
      in promise of such a heaven / christian organizations have
      a yearly turnover of $billions /// where people be fleeced
      as sheep /their children treated as lamb for the slaughter
      in support of corrupt christian teaching/through centuries.

      Example of such fraud being. // In quallifing to enter such
      a fictional heaven / one must have there sin removed. WHAT
      being sin?. It claimed by christianity that SEX being a SIN.

      All being born via the sexual act in meaning all are sinners.

      According to christianity their leader JESUS the CHRIST not
      born of sin it be the claim he being born of a virgin /thus
      free of ( it gets better ) it further claimed by christianty
      their leader in being free of sin /has the power in removing
      the sin of others. /Free of sin then qualifies one for their
      entry to a fictional heaven that somewhere beyond the clouds.

      The Almighty did not part spiritual wisdom unto MUHAMMAD that
      people be lost in the madness of christianity an christianity
      that simply used as a excuse to wage war /a christianity that
      used for the few to control as grow wealthy cheating the many.

      Thus it is through faith in one’s seperating fact from fiction
      not to add to the LORDS word /that which wrongly done by those
      whom practice christianity. Other example / being the nonsense
      that woman in lust of the flesh /guilty in tempting man to sin
      as the christian story goes // man being evicted from heaven..
      due to his temptation of woman /in his lusting after the flesh.

      Such nonsense was brought about in giving man complete authority
      over woman / reducing her unto slavery // thus t’was the cunning
      of man that brought his downfall // not being any fault of woman.

      Thus its for every Muslim where not falling into the trappings of christian corruption /// where the teachings of JESUS but totally abused as misunderstood / misrepresented / be those whom blind by
      their greed of wealth /as worldly power lost in material illusion.

      Thus it not for mmuslims in making such similar mistakes where in
      place of truth the words of MUHAMMAD be misrepresented twisted as turned // which are in gain of power as wealth / rather than love
      of creation a love gained in depth of understanding as compassion.

      It be at the present time with IRAN where western nations fearing
      IRAN in such process / of attaining nuclear arms. Western nations
      bring fear to others where are the worlds stronger military power
      they are not used in being the victim of fear /in facing stronger
      odds against them //though at present time the main concern comes
      from ISRAEL in an nuclear armed IRAN in being a threat unto them
      which of course they would not /HOWEVER it be ISRAEL having done
      such wrong they now believe the Almighty capable /bringing their destruction /which of course but mindless nonsense ISRAEL brings
      her own destruction her behaviour of palestinians / muslims dire.

      Such a situation it understandable IRAN wish gaining nuclear arms
      in protection agin ISRAEL / the injustice of western nations /yet
      is having nuclear arms going to guarantee peace for the people of IRAN ?. The answer to such is NO. It would not. In having nuclear
      arms would only make a bad situation worse / thus it for the govt
      as people of IRAN in understanding the real power being ones love
      of ALLAH. Such a power can’t be beaten it’s the power of creation.

      Thus work with the western nations on this matter / let it not be
      an source of conflict /in winning the hearts / you’ll win the war.

      Thus make your peace with western nations on this matter / allow all the tests as assurances that western nations need / thus do not test their willingness to bring conflict //such a conflict can only bring great suffering to the many where all humanity plunged into darkness.

      Thus trust in ALLAH / ALLAH will give depth in ones experience depth
      in understanding / such are troubled time’s for humanity they be the
      darkest hours before the dawn ///one needs grasp the Almighty’s hand.

      1. Im not sure where to begin with you on being so wrong about christian beliefs.. do not attack a religion if you do not know much about it, do not assume something if you heard it from one person, in Christianity sex is a sin if its between unmarried people, not just sex is a sin general, kids are not born with a sin because they are born out of sex, thus your assumptions are very wrong. All i can say is learn and research and have straight and true facts before you start stating things about a religion which isn’t yours..

  7. Women have serious human rights concern the world over and in Egypt. Absolutely. But even if this nude revolt was staged by a man it would have elicited an equal if not more vehement disdain. We must separate women’s rights and western individualism and narcissism.

  8. It’s fascinating how we’re really watching the first major cultural revolution of the 21st century and it’s all based off of the use, sharing and proliferation of social media. It will be interesting to see the identity that emerges from out of these tumultuous times!

  9. Hypocracy exist in all places. In Sweden; one of the so called equal countries a woman is still only worth 80% of a man. A statistic that comes out when looking at wages where a woman doing the exactly same job as a man gets paid less.

    Any step to provoke action for women´s rights is an act for all huMans’ rights.

  10. Interesting, that sixty years and more ago, it was the look into the arab Harems and dancers of the movies and books, that many got their first look at the female body. What has happened in the last decades that has turned things around so much?

  11. exposing a female body brings back the acts done in the times of lot in tthe city of Sodom, these were sinners, actualy men lost the desire for women and resorted to homosex, just as it is now happening in this generation. but just as God burnt Sodom & Gomula to ashes, is exactly what He will do to this wicked generation apart from those who obey Him and worship in truth & faith. watch out your religion that you are defending

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