Fury over young activist publishing nude self-portrait

In an unprecedented move, a young Egyptian female on Sunday dared to publish a nude self-portrait, along with other nude photos, on her blog as an expression of personal freedom.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy said on Twitter that she posted the photo under her real name. She added that she took the photo by herself in her parents’ home.

Her blog, which has only one entry so far, has received nearly 30,000 hits.

Under the title “fan a’ry” (nude art), Elmahdy posted eight pictures, two of herself and one showing a nude man holding a guitar, in addition to other photos.

In one photo, yellow rectangles cover parts of her body. “The yellow rectangles on my eyes, mouth and sex organ resemble the censoring of our knowledge, expression and sexuality,” Elmahdy said.

On her Facebook page, she said that she was “echoing screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”

Elmahdy argued on the blog that publishing the photo was 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.

From the 1930s until the early 1970s, Egyptian women enjoyed greater personal freedom in terms of wearing western style garments, including bathing suits. Headscarves were a rare sight among middle class and university female students.

In recent decades, however, Egyptian women have increasingly worn more “modest” clothing, such as the headscarf and even the face cover.

In Egypt’s recent history, students of fine arts were trained to draw portraits through the use of nude models. This practice no longer exists in Egypt.

Legendary Armenian photographer Van Leo destroyed his nude photographs before his death because he was concerned that they would make him a target of Islamic extremists.

Shortly after the pictures were posted (hash tag #NudePhotoRevolutionary), debate ensued over Elmahdy’s move.

Someone with the user name @AmandaAzim hailed her move, writing, “A woman exposing her body for freedom is wrong? Or is it wrong that women's bodies are dictated by men & men alone?”

Another user named @MitoArab called the decision “a desperate act of social political suicide by a young woman” and wrote that “Egypt should think about its verbal response.”

User Ahmad Hammoud chose to evaluate the photo’s artistic content. “Photography wise… It's a bad photo,” he wrote.

Many comments referenced Egypt’s current divide between Islamists and secularists.

Following the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in early February, Islamists have gained influence as they are suddenly free to operate openly without persecution from government authorities. Ultra-conservative Salafis have called for applying Islamic Sharia law, while some conservative preachers have called for banning women from wearing western swimsuits.

User Ali Hagras tweeted, “let's just hope Salafi sheikhs don't get word of this. They're gonna throw it all on liberals and seculars.”

User Magued Ghoraba protested the decision to post the photo, “We are defending secularism from innuendos & then we get this #NudePhotoRevolutionary Stop shocking people to the point of repulsion.”

Editor's note: Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition removed the nude sketch previously on display with this story in response to several readers' complaints.

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