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In a show of feminist solidarity, a group of forty Israeli women posed nude in support of Aliaa Elmahdy, a female Egyptian blogger and activist who had posted an online naked photo of herself to protest, among other things, Egypt’s objectification of woman as sex objects.
While such an act in the Western world would engender little more than a passing yawn, in Egypt it touched off a firestorm of debate, with Elmahdy’s defenders calling her “heroic” and a “revolutionary,” while others have dismissed her as an “attention-seeker, a disgrace or a pervert.”
While the central issues of the controversy swirled around the ramifications Aliaa’s naked frame would have on the future course of societal values in Egypt, others were more centered toward the aesthetic. As one prominent Egyptian blogger said of the picture, “The lighting is awful and the composition is dreadful. Break all the social boundaries you want, but don’t call it art.”
For Elmahdy, a 20-year-old self-professed secular, liberal, feminist, vegetarian, individualist Egyptian, she was simply “echoing screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy” when she posted her nude self-portrait on her blog in October.
For Or Tepler, a 28-year-old Israeli and self-described “leftist and a seeker of peace,” she was outraged that Elmahdy had become the victim of countless abusive comments and death threats for having the temerity to show her all on Egyptian cyberspace.
So in an attempt to demonstrate that women are more than just eye candy for men, Tepler organized a photo shoot in which dozens of Israeli women posed nakedly defiant in front of a large sign that read “Homage to Aliaa Elmahdy: Sisters in Israel,” and “Love without Limits.”
However, while love may have no limits, apparently there were limits to how much skin the Israeli women were willing to expose, as any intimate body parts were carefully shielded by the large sign and crossed arms.
Nevertheless, Tepler was highly confident that the photo event had served as an opportunity for women “to show support in a non-violent and legitimate way for a woman who is just like us – young, ambitious, full of dreams and evidently has a developed sense of humor.”
Elmahdy’s apparent sense of humor, however, may be lost on those Egyptians currently embroiled in the midst of a cultural, religious and political war between those who envision a liberal, secular state and those who advocate an Islamist one.
The first battle in that war is slated to begin November 28, 2011, as Egyptians vote in the first of a series of parliamentary elections that will continue in stages through March 2012 and culminate in a presidential vote in 2013.
Egypt’s liberal secularists, already facing long electoral odds against better organized and more popular Islamist and Salafist parties, rightly fear the effect the Elmahdy controversy will have on their already slim electoral chances.
After all, Tunisia, which like Egypt has a large secular elite, just witnessed in October the Islamist Ennahda Party win more than 40% of the vote in that nation’s first parliamentary election, making it the dominant political power in Tunisia’s nascent democracy.
As one Egyptian secularist said, “Egyptian liberals will now be seen as pro-nudity,” while another complained that Elmahdy had “done nothing but allow the conservatives to have one more reason to call for an Islamic state.”
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