By Polina Romanova
Aliya Magda El-Mahdi is a 20-year-old student of journalism at Cairo’s American University. She describes herself as a secularized liberal feminist, an individualist and a vegan. Some time ago, Aliya created quite a stir and hit headlines by posting a series of nude photos of her on her Facebook page. She said she was protesting against social inequality, Islamic censorship, racism, gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The photos have already attracted more than three million viewers from far and wide.
Now, 50 girls in Israel have joined the Middle East’s first nude revolutionary. A collective nude photo of them features a streamer proclaiming Love Without Borders.
President of the Moscow-based Middle East Institute Dr Yevgeni Satanovsky remains skeptical. He dismisses the chances of any feminist-driven revolution in the Middle East as nil:
“So far, no upheaval in the Arab world has amounted to a democratic revolution. The current upheavals are just putsches which bring Islamist radicals to power. And these folk will not tolerate homosexual love or feminism any more than they tolerate Christianity. The Greater Middle East is living through something like Europe’s Dark Ages, when exceptionally beautiful or free-thinking women were often branded witches and burned at the stake. And remember, the mindset for this prevailed for almost a millennium.”
Even in the Western world, it took centuries for its great political revolutions to be followed by gender and sexual ones. Universal suffrage, for instance, started taking hold as late as 1893, when it came to New Zealand. In 1902, it was adopted by Australia. Its final triumph in Europe had to wait until the 1980s.
In Egypt, many accuse Aliya Magda El Mahdi of insulting Islam, and some even suspect her of acting as a stooge for the country’s secret services.
The Russian analyst Dr Stanislav Tarasov praises her for courage, but does not expect a feminist revolution in the Middle East:
“The latest feminist stunt in Israel reflects a mindset which was borrowed from Europe. In other Middle East countries, radical feminism is doomed. This, however, does not rule out a gradual emancipation of the Arab women. The latter will come because of pressures at home and under influences from abroad. Symptomatically, female faces in Parliament are an increasingly frequent phenomenon in the Arab world.”
In the meantime, Aliya Magda El Mahdi has shut her Facebook page and distanced herself from the media. Fortunately, the debate that she ignited by her stunt is raging on.