Love & Sex

Egypt’s Leading Nude Protester Takes Astonishing Risks

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Aliaa Elmahdy bares it all to speak volumes about gender roles.

Aliaa Elmahdy, Egypt's notorious nude protester, has shaken the Muslim world again with one recent Facebook post. The social media missive featured an image of the Arabic phrase “Woman Is Great,” a riff off of the Islamic incantation “Allahu Akhbar: God is great." In Egypt, not only is that blasphemous, but it could get a woman killed.

Since 2011, Elmahdy has been challenging the religious extremism of the Middle East and the Koran with the boldness of her body. She first won over both the contempt and reverence of the media by posting a photo of herself  on her blog wearing nothing but high heels and thigh-high stockings. The photo caused outrage in Egypt, still a conservative Muslim country where many women wear the veil. When interviewed back in 2011 by CNN about why she posted the nude photo to social media, she said, "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." But Elmahdy's strong protests and the death threats, kidnapping, and rape threats they incited caused her to seek political asylum in Sweden earlier this year.

NSFW below.

Last December she teamed up with Ukrainian-based topless protest group Femen for yet another controversial shoot. This one featured her nude chest with the phrase, "Sharia is not constitution," written across it as she held up the Egyptian flag. This was seen as a protest against Islamic sharia law becoming the main source of Egyptian legislation, which would solidify Islamic women as second-class citizens.

Elmahdy's death threats and expatriate status have not deterred her from seeking new platforms and campaigns to illuminate the troubling gender roles in her home country, whether its forced virginity tests in Tahrir Sqaure or Egypt's lack of sex education for youth. While both her in-person and Facebook protests continue to ruffle feathers, she has taken to Twitter to have a personal dialogue with her followers. (The fact that her Twitter bio reads, "Secular Liberal Feminist Vegetarian Egyptian," shouldn't surprise you.) When one person asked if she would ever partake in public sex for a protest, she responded boldly:

The huge risk that Elmahdy takes and would take with her body shouldn't be understated. In 2004, the short film Submission, which examined the mistreatment of women in Islam, was released by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and director Theo van Gogh. The film portrayed a naked female form covered in sexist writings from the Koran, something that did not sit well with the Netherland's Muslim population. The director van Gogh was found shortly after the release, murdered in the streets with a note pinned to him saying that the filmmaker Ali was next. Though she remained safe, death threats for Ali poured in. And such is the fate of anyone who calls into question Islam's holiest text and the restrictive gender roles inside it.

The Daily Beast's Lizzie Crocker aptly points out that in the Western world, the risk that Elmahdy takes by posing nude doesn't appear that revolutionary on the surface and it's not nearly as dangerous to execute. We see it in our media countless times a day. "The Western media is frequently titillated by bare-breasted (and usually attractive) Femen activists, whose toplessness is often irrelevant to their feminist message. But in the Muslim world, Elmahdy’s nudity isn’t just titillating, it’s the ultimate act of brave rebellion." Which is why women oppressed by the limited agency afforded to them by Islamic gender norms are lucky to have a woman like Elmahdy, ready to fight for her womanhood, with or without her top on.

Image via.

[h/t The Daily Beast]