Egyptian activist Aliaa al-Mahdy recently created quite a controversy when nude photos of her were uploaded to her blog, making her a household name in Egypt and sparking a new Twitter trend (#nudephotorevolutionary). Inspired by the revolution against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the ideals of the Arab Spring, al-Mahdy explains that she posted the photos as a way to promote sexual equality and expression in the Arab world. She comments on her photo, saying, “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.”
Like many other women in Egypt, al-Mahdy feels oppressed and ostracized based on nothing more than her gender, and is forced to suffer constant sexual harassment and abuse. In 2008, it was reported that 83% of women in Egypt had been sexually assaulted.
The Arab Spring movements across the Middle East seek to broadly promote liberty, fairness, and the right to free speech, yet these same values are being denied to women. It is hypocritical for those values to not to be applied to women’s rights, as it contradicts the basis of the revolutions. Women in the Arab world are just as inspired by these revolutions as others have been and the effect that these events have had on women cannot be contained.
Women in the region like al-Mahdy will apply these new ideals to their own plight. If women aren’t allowed to use the ideals promoted by the Arab Spring, of what use are they? Liberty is only to apply to the select few, only to men? How is that any different from the original problem? If this is to be a new age in the Arab world, then women deserve every chance to change their position, as fighting the standard is the essence of the revolutions.
While al-Mahdy has gained some criticism from fellow Egyptians and other observers alike, she has also gained a significant amount of support from women (and a few men). Dozens of Israeli women marched in support of al-Mahdy, many post encouraging tweets, and over 2,000 people follow her blog. Of course, not every woman will choose to express herself as al-Mahdy has – that ultimately boils down to the individual and their beliefs. However, women should have a choice of how to express themselves and should be able to do so without fear of harassment.
Hopefully in the coming years the hypocrisy of being denied these basic rights will be proven and we can work towards equality in the Middle East. Until then, it will take controversy, scandal, and outspoken women like al-Mahdy to challenge the status quo and inspire change.
Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim