Monthly Archives: November 2011

Aliaa Al Mahdy: Rebel With A Cause

By: Alexandra Kinias

Egyptian blogger Aliaa Al Mahdy can easily pass as the girl next door, yet at a closer look, she is not the normal type of girl one usually runs into. In her words Aliaa describes herself as secular, liberal, feminist, vegetarian and individualist Egyptian. The day after she celebrated her twentieth birthday, Loleeta, as she calls herself on her Facebook page, was charged with inciting immorality, debauchery and defamation of religion. Aliaa’s crime is posting a nude self-photograph on her blog, A Rebel’s Diary.

Aliaa’s unprecedented act shocked the conservative Egyptian society. Her action not only raised eyebrows, but also questioned her sanity. But the young rebel defended herself and her freedom of expression. “I have the right to live freely in any place,” She wrote on her blog. “I feel happy and self-satisfied when I feel that I’m really free.” Under the picture she wrote one word Revolution.

On her Facebook page Aliaa explained that she posted this picture to defend her freedom that is being hijacked by conservatism. She wrote that she was “echoing screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”

She refuses to be judged or criticized for her actions. “Try models who posed naked for Fine Arts students in the 1970s, hide all art books, and destroy all naked statues. Then take off your clothes and look at yourselves in the mirror and burn those bodies of yours which you despise in order to get rid of your sexual complexes forever. Do that before you hurl your discriminatory insults at me or rob me of my freedom of expression.” She said.

There is a very high price for freedom, but it seems that Aliaa Al Mahdi is willing it pay it.

To read more:

Washington Post: Egyptian activist’s nude blog sparks controversy as liberals try to distance themselves

Washington Post: Egyptian activist nude self portrait causes online fury

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From Queens to Commodities: The Devolution of the Egyptian Women

By: Alexandra Kinias

The women of ancient Egypt lived in equality,freedom and enjoyed rights that were denied and envied by women of neighboring countries. Over the millennia, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra reigned over the throne of Egypt. Two thousand years after the death of Cleopatra, her daughters are fighting once again for their rights.

Egypt, infected by the contagious Wahhabism virus transferred from behind the sand dunes of Arabia, is standing at crossroads. While the country is skating on thin ice, women are watching in confusion and uncertainty the dark clouds of conservatism gaining momentum. They are fearful of a future that might hijack their freedom of dress and choice, segregate them from their male peers and confine them back in their homes.

These fears were asserted after a televised interview with the potential presidential nominee Hazem Abu Ismail who promised, if elected, the implementation of Sharia law (Islamic law), reinstating relations with Iran, arresting tourists in bathing suits, outlawing drinking alcohol in public, closing down casinos and forcing Egyptian Christians to pay a separate tax for not converting. In the same interview he acknowledged that one of his first duties would be to push the idea through the appropriate channels to force the Islamic dress on all womenand expressed his wishes to see the television commentator veiled!

Abu Ismail’s comments awakened the ghosts of the Iranian revolution and left the apprehension of a gloomy future hovering over the heads of millions of moderates, liberals and women. The saga of the Iranian women is still vivid in everybody’s mind. They had supported the 1979 revolution with the assumption that the rights they had gained up to that date would not be tampered with, but the unpredictable reality after the dust had settled was grave. Just like in Iran, the revolution in Egypt would not have succeeded without the women who challenged all social taboos and demonstrated by the side of men to topple the regime of Hosny Mubarak. Yet today the rights of women are questioned as the voices of the Islamists are rising against them and continually pushing them to the side.

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights reflected in its last report the effect of the political situation on women and affirmed that their rights are dwindling after the revolution. There is a consistent attack from Islamists against the meager rights that women had gained in the last decade. Their loud voices are calling to revoke the laws that allowed women the right to divorce and for their retreat from political life. While women had expected more political participation after the revolution, it came as a disappointment when only one woman was appointed in a cabinet post. They were left out from holding offices as mayors, governors or city councilpersons. They were also excluded from the constituent assembly appointed to draft the new constitution. Clearly this came as a blow to their faces and contradicted the spirit of the revolution that promoted equality and human rights.

In The Women’s Forum for Society and Economy 2011 in France, the renowned human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Peace Award winner Shirin Ebadi reminded the women of Egypt and other Arab countries not to forget what happened to the women of Iran.“Look at Iran”, she told them, “Do not repeat our mistakes.” When she saw images of the protestors in Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, she saw them demanding democracy. “Did anyone say we are against polygamy? That we want divorce rights? That we are human beings and need equal rights? You are making the same mistake Iranian women made. We thought we could demand women’s rights after the revolution”, she said. The Iranian women who participated in the 1979 revolution wanted to overthrow the Shah and end a dictatorship. They didn’t demand to end polygamy or the right to divorce. It was taken for granted that these rights could be negotiated later.To combat the patriarchal system that interprets the Sharia from the point view of men for their benefit, Ebadi advised women to push for women’s rights during the struggle. “Don’t wait for the victory. Choose your allies. Dictate these conditions before the alliance”, she said.

There are a lot of lessons learned from the outcome of the Iranian revolution. Just like the Iranian women of 1979, their Egyptian counterparts are at crossroads today. Their issues and rights are not priorities for decision makers while the future of the country is still in peril. However, while everyone is watching the changes happening in the country, social justice, democracy and human rights will never materialize in a society where women’s rights are ignored.

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