Exposing a weakness

Nude blogger raises questions about Egypt’s secular culture

In developed and western counties, nudity can be used as an artistic form of protest in order to deliver a strong message about unjust conditions; in this context, it may or may not spark controversy.

This is in contrast to eastern cultures and Muslim countries, where such protesting is seen as a disrespectful, contemptuous act toward others, even though the intended message from such action may be in defence of human rights.

Recently, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a 20-year-old university student from Cairo, sparked discussion by posting naked pictures of herself on her blog, A Rebel’s Diary, highlighting the fact that women are oppressed and denied their rights as human beings in Egypt due to the influence of religion, as well as laws that are restrictive towards women.

Elmahdy is known as a fan of Sayed Al-Qemany, who is a self-described secular figure, a prominent Egyptian attacked by Muslim brotherhood and other fundamentalist groups because of his progressive writing on Islam and Islamic history. He’s been used as a source on the Elmahdy issue, not only in Egypt but also in most Islamic countries.

To many liberal and secular individuals, Al-Qemany’s response to the issue was disappointing and unjustified.

He took a defensive tack, and tried to personalize the issue instead of giving realistic justifications for Elmahdy’s act.

Al-Qemany said that he didn’t know about the issue until he was contacted to comment on it, adding that he himself is not responsible for what his readers do.

“Probably this woman suffers from pressure and mental problems and should be treated and get helped, not attacked,” he said.

He went on to express that Elmahdy doesn’t represent the values he believes in, or else he and his family would also go naked.

In other words, he said nothing productive.

People may mix things up, but freedom of expression shouldn’t be confused with liberalism.

However, there’s no question that the Elmahdy issue will be utilized for political purposes. In fact, it’s understandable why this issue has been raised at this particular juncture - the first stage of the parliamentary election took place on Nov. 28.

Some fundamental groups may use this issue to attack liberalism and secularism and deliver a message to the public state that this is what will happen if you choose liberal and secular parties over Islamic parties.

Was Elmahdy’s message not delivered in the proper way, or at the right time?

Whatever the answer, here’s hoping that Egypt will have the cognizance to learn from the cautionary examples of neighbouring countries, where religion dominates every part of political life.

Fatemah Al Helal is an international student who was awarded her first degree in food and nutritional science. She is currently majoring in sociology at University of Winnipeg. More of Fatemah’s writings can be found at http://daughterofarabia.blogspot.com/.

Published in Volume 66, Number 14 of The Uniter (November 30, 2011)

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