Despite the violent campaign against her, Egyptian activist Aliaa al-Mahdy’s blog, Diaries of a Revolutionary, is reaching record page views with over 7,001,500 and increasing by the second.
People, who criticized her provocative body protest, also ogled her nude protest picture she uploaded to the blog.
Mahdy, a progressive young feminist, shook the ground from under the online community when she posted a nude picture of herself in protest of violence against women.
“Freedom is taken, not handed over,” says the motto on the home page of her blog. However the form of protest backfired on her, causing her to be kidnapped and nearly raped.
Mahdy announced recently in a solidarity message to the Arab Women Uprising online campaign that collects messages of support from Arab women and men explaining why they support women revolting, she wrote that she is “with the uprising of women in the Arab world because they threatened to rape me, jail me, and kill me, they kidnapped me, harassed me and tried to rape me ... when I posted an artistic naked picture of myself and blogged about women’s rights and had a relationship with my love and left my father’s house.”
Mahdy posted tens of death threats she received on her blog. Most use the words kill, whore and God. Many swore to kill her on sight and one man told her he is stalking her in between obscene words.
But it is not only in the Middle East where she faces hardship. On December 15, Mahdy was heading to Paris via Gothenburg, Sweden, when more frustration came her way. A member of Femen who describe themselves as the scandal famous organization of topless women activists, who defend with their breast sexual and social equality in the world - had purchased her a ticket to travel, but when she arrived at the airport to take the flight, the booking had been canceled. Instead of panicking, a second Femen activist intervened and made a second ticket purchase. Mahdy then passed through airport security with her boarding pass and was waiting to board the flight when she was stopped by the same ticketing agent who told her “she got a warning” about Mahdy and the Egyptian activist would not be allowed onto the plane. The Lufthansa agent told her that Mahdy was required to show her the credit card used to pay for the flight and that it had to be hers.
“I replied that thousands of people travel with tickets paid for by other people everyday,” she wrote in a blog post. Mahdy is right. A simple call to the Lufthansa ticketing office in Sweden confirmed this, with the agent saying that “we make a note of any ticket purchased by a third-party and all that is required is a passport for identification of the passenger.”
Digging further, a call to the Lufthansa office in Germany revealed that they would not talk about individual situations, citing “security” as their reason. She said she was treated in “not [a] nice way” by the airport agent when told she could not fly.
“I am disappointed that my freedom of expression is also oppressed in Europe,” she added in her blog post on what happened at the airport.
Aliaa’s post, dating back to October 23, 2011, exploded like a smoke bomb online, and many hid behind the anger to breath out hate against a woman, whose crime was to protest nude, and in a society where women’s bodies are foremost not their property, but that of her father or husband, to those Mahdy had gone too far.
Many of the death threats called for capital punishment simply for her self-professed atheism.
Even women denied Aliaa the right to use her body as a protest tool, criticizing her. The liberal community’s silence was as ever deafening.
Her blog message was as follows: “Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hang-ups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.”
For a nation to stand on its feet because one of its members protested nude, seems to be an exaggerated response, but in a country where the majority of women are sexually harassed everyday in the streets, it seems to be revealing more of the decay that continues to expose the dark sides of how we treat women.
On her blog Aliaa shares a photo of a nude man standing in water up to his ankles, trying to pull a donkey into the water, while cars and buses pass right by with no sense of wonder. Yes, men can do what they wish, that is not a secret, but women on the other hand must carry on the legacy of virtue and its close relationship to their bodies.
With very to no little control, Egyptian women are fearful of nudity, it goes against their religion, customs and often safety. Women cover their hair, shoulders and legs to avoid harm in public, but in the truly democratic sphere of blogging, the same rules are being defied and broken daily.
It seems that freedom of thought or expression is proven to be a costly practice for Egyptian activists and feminists. And you don’t need to take off any of your clothes to be beaten, assaulted and nearly raped. On March 8, 2011 a group of female protesters were attacked by passersby in Cairo’s Tahrir square, only a few weeks after the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak fell, and on the same land that saw the most courageous acts of defiance witnessed the most hostile acts of violence.
Activists were groped, beaten, their jewelry stolen following an argument that proposed that Islam had given women all their rights and they should be grateful to take it and shut up. One activist was taken to a hospital for stitches in her head, after a man threw her against the side walk.
In 2012, almost all anti-sexual harassment marches in Cairo were attacked and the women protesters sexually harassed.
We are becoming a society that is deeply troubled with its social roles. Women are taking off their submissive robes and are in fact in control in many households or offices around the country. Threatened by what they see as a fleeting grasp of power, men are hitting back, literally.
Yet collectively, we punish those who differ from us, ghettoize religious minorities and persecute them, but you cannot ghettoize women, they are everywhere, they are too many to be marginalized.
If we use violence against those who demand to be heard and respected, those who demand an end to violence against them, when we go ahead and use violence, what does that make us as a nation? If human rights organizations do not take an interest in Mahdy’s personal safety and lobby that the government take serious those who assaulted and intimidated her, what does that say about our culture, our society and our future?
(Manar Ammar is a Senior Reporter and Women’s Editor for Bikyamasr.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @manar_ammar)