Egypt’s Pioneering Nude Protester
With her performance art and activism, Aliaa Elmahdy is putting herself at risk to raise the issue of women’s rights in Egypt.
Despite the enormous risks assumed by women like Hirsi Ali, a new generation of activists are radically challenging religious extremism in the Middle East. With an echo of Hirsi Ali’s notorious film, Egyptian atheist and activist Aliaa Elmahdy recently provoked fury in her home country when she contorted the Muslim call to prayer on Facebook, posting an image of the Arabic phrase “Woman Is Great,” a play on the Islamic incantation “Allahu Akhbar”—God is great.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram stacked the deck against Elmahdy. “While some have called her a heroine,” the paper wrote after her nude photo went viral, “others have opted for the term mentally ill.” To bolster the case for madness, the newspaper quoted an Egyptian psychiatrist who attributed her activism to either parental abuse or neglect: “It could be that this person didn’t receive much attention from his or her parents or close family members as a child, or perhaps he or she was abused or neglected.”
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. Daily Beast (The activist and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali takes on a new clash of values over forced marriages in America.)