Femen and Aliaa ElMahdy, Feminism and Nudity

“No Islamism. Yes to Secularism.”

One thing is to hear this phrase or read it in a magazine; another thing is to see it written on a naked female body. You guessed right, an activist, but apart from your appetite (or lack of it) for nudity, the one part I find really mystifying is that the activists doing it are part of a feminist group, the Ukrainian Femen, with the ‘guest-appearance’ of Aliaa ElMahdy, already a name that rings many bells in Egypt.

Femen & Aliaa ElMahdy

This week, Femen hit again, this time against the Pope: a topless protest against the Catholic Church’s objection to same-sex marriage. This time, they had the phrase ‘Shut Up’ painted on their naked torso.

Femen against the Pope

Message(s) apart, why is nudity becoming a ‘shortcut’ for promoting feminist causes? Why do new-age feminists confuse activism for exhibitionism (and vice-versa)? To think that nudity is an immediate and assured way of attracting attention (specially media) and gain visibility is a no-brainer. To call this ‘art’ or ‘feminist activism’, that is a completely different story, because it usually ends up beating the whole purpose of feminism (by objectifying the female body once again).

The naked female body can and did serve as a brilliant medium (rather than object or subject) of art and gender activism; and the examples are anything but lacking: Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneeman, Rebecca Horn, and the list goes on.

Back to Aliaa ElMahdy whose nude photo caused a scandal in Egypt when it was uploaded to the social networks, one can –again- trace the problem to a phrase that she herself said in labeling herself ‘Revolutionary Girl’, a very dangerous label in a country where hundreds of revolutionaries died down the streets while fighting for freedom and dignity. At the time, she claimed that she wanted to open a necessary debate about the taboos engendered in the society, specially those having to do with women. Sounds like a good thing to do, but in a country like Egypt, this type of ‘shock therapy’ is completely out of context, and more than anyone, she herself knew about it. In no time she started receiving both threats (from as far away as Iran) and messages of support from beyond the border (how about Israel for one?), and it all worked: the CNN interviewed her, followed by everyone on earth: visibility and publicity assured.

Aliaa ElMahdy's Photo that caused the controversy

One should pause here and wonder: ‘but revolution…it’s not just what happens on the streets…it’s also what happens in people’s minds as well, no?’ Of course, and one has to admit that, had it not been for the Arab Spring, it would be unthinkable to open such debates using such methods. Aliaa, too, is a product of the revolution, a cultural phenomenon (good or bad, that’s not my issue) among others that call for a thorough analysis. See how much we deviated from ‘feminism’ while tackling a supposedly feminist issue?

My 9th Article in El Legado Andalusí: The Egyptian Revolution, towards a new moral geography

Finally, a humble tribute to our friend, the hero and martyr Tarek Abd Latif, whose blood and that of others wrote new history and revived a dream that –for Egyptians- had been dormant for years: a dream of dignity. An article of mine about the Egyptian revolution has just been published by El Legado Andalusí Foundation, starting with a tribute to Tarek (may his soul rest in peace) and featuring two wonderful photos by Monir El.Shazly who did not hesitate to contribute to this effort. This article was supposed to be published last year, but it only appeared now for logistical issues at the Foundation. It is published under a pseudonym: Mohammed Hassan ‘Homer’.
You can see part of the original article in Spanish at:
http://revista.legadoandalusi.es/n45/mosaicos/la_revolucion_egipcia_hacia_una_nueva_geografia_moral.html

You can also read Arabic and English translations for some excerpts from the article below:

“بدون شجاعة، ليس هناك من مجد” – طارق عبد اللطيف

طارق عبد اللطيف محمد، 36 عاماً، مهندس، أب لطفلتين: سارة و عمرها عام، و مريم ذات الأعوام الستة.
مع زوجته رانيا، كان لديهما حياة هادئة و مستقرة و لكن كان ينقصها شيء…شيء كان يفتقده كل المصريين: كرامة المعيشة في دولة تحترم حقوق المواطن…دولة لا تكون حياة الإنسان فيها أرخص من أي شيء!

شارك طارق في المظاهرات التي تحولت إلى ثورة مجيدة، شارك لكي يسقط الطغيان و لكي يعيش المصريون بكرامة.

في الثامن و العشرين من فبراير تم اغتياله من قبل النظام. بحثت عنه عائلته لمدة أربعة و أربعين يوماً إلى أن تم العثور على جثته، جثة بطل جعل عائلته و أصدقائه فخورين مرفوعي الرأس. كانت جنازته واحدة من جنازات كثيرة لشهداء الحرية الذين تم تكفينهم بأعلام تحوى ألواناً ثلاثة، ألوان مصر.

يبعث الشباب العربي إلينا برسالة عظيمة تدعو للتفاؤل. يدعوننا إلي بناء جغرافية أخلاقية جديدة: جغرافية أساسها احترام الآخر، و ليس البترول الذي يمكن استخراجه من أرض الآخر أو الأسلحة التي يمكن بيعها له! جغرافية تساعدنا في القضاء على الجغرافيات “المتخيَّلة” و المبنية على الجهل و الخوف…جغرافية مبنية على احترام حقوق الآخر حيثما كان، سواء على الجانب الآخر من المتوسط أو على الجانب الآخر من الأرض.

أخيراً، و وفاءاً لطارق و لغيره من شهداء الحرية بالعالم العربي، تحضرنا أبيات الشاعر التونسي الشابِى:
“إذا الشعب يوماً أراد الحياة،
فلا بد أن يستجيب القدر،
و لا بد لليل أن ينجلي
و لا بد للقيد أن ينكسر.”

“Without guts, there can be no glory” – Tarek Abdel Latif

Tarek Abdel Latif, 36 years, engineer, father of 2 kids: Sarah (1 yaer old) and Mariam (6 years old).
With his wife, Rania, they had a quiet and stable life but they were missing something, something that all Egyptians lacked: the dignity of living in a country that respects the citizens’ rights, and where the human life would not be the cheapest thing that there is!

Tarek joined the demonstrations that eventually became a glorious revolution, he joined to bring down tyranny, and for the Egyptians to live with dignity.

On the 28 of February 2011 he was murdered by the regime. His family searched for him over forty-four days until his body was found, the body of a hero that made his family and friends proud, with heads held high. His funeral was one of several funerals for martyrs of freedom that were shrouded in flags of three colors, the colors of Egypt.

The Arab youth sends us a great message of optimism. They call on us to construct a new moral geography: a geography based on respect for ‘the other’, rather than on the oil we can extract from his territory or the arms we can sell him! A geography based on respecting the rights of the other wherever he may be, whether on the other side of the Mediterranean or the other side of the planet.

Finally, and in tribute to Tarek and other martyrs of freedom in the Arab World, one can only think of these verses by the Tunisian al-Shabi:
“Should the people one day truly aspire to life,
then fate must respond,
the night must shine forth,
and the shackles must break.”

The Arab Spring: 2011 World Press Photo

The Arab Spring is the theme of the 2011 World Press Photo winner.
The photo, by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda; features a veiled Yemeni woman holding an injured man in her arms in a field hospital in Sanaa.

Out of over 100,000 photos, this one won the prize. “It is a photo that speaks for the entire region. It stands for Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, for all that happened in the Arab Spring,” jury member Koyo Kouoh said. “But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on. And it shows the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement.”

“In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment,” jury member Nina Berman noted. “It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment – in moments like this.”

Lecture about the Egyptian Revolution: The Role of Women (Feb 6th)

Voy a dar una charla sobre el papel de las mujeres en la revolución egipcia (y la primavera árabe en general) este lunes, el 6 de febrero. Póster adjunto.
Dirección: C/ Mare de Déu del Pilar 15, Barcelona.

I will be giving a lecture on the role of women in the Egyptian Revolution (and the Arab Spring in general) this Monday, 6 February. Poster attached.
Address: 15 Mare de Deu del Pilar Street, Barcelona.

Griffiti and the Revolution: Art and the Beast

Unlike ‘academic’ and ‘formal’ art, graffiti is the one form of visual art that responds to social, political and cultural events faster than any other art form. It remains to be considered illegal and deemed ‘vandalism’ when, in fact, it’s one of the best examples on cultural activism during periods of political unrest, and the Egyptian graffiti scene is a perfect example, fresh, crisp, witty and spontaneous.

Graffiti works assume a strategic importance for the Egyptian Revolution, sending visual messages that became iconic of the revolutionary spirit in the country, and capturing snapshots of a quick succession of events in a way that immortalizes certain moments in the collective memory.

A revolution is not just what happens down the streets…a revolution must happen in people’s minds first. Art is not just a tool to express or document the revolution…art, in itself, is a revolution.

Cultural Dialogue after the Arab Spring: My Scholarship Report Published (Jan 26th)

The Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) published a short version of my scholarship report that documents the symposium on ‘Cultural Dialogue after the Arab Spring’, co-organized on 28 October 2011 by the ifa and the Institut Carlemany d’Estudis Europeus (ICEE) of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC) in Barcelona:

http://www.ifa.de/fileadmin/pdf/stipendienprogramm/symposium_report_mediterranean2011.pdf

International Symposium in Barcelona: Cultural Dialogue after the Arab Spring (Oct 28th)

Today I moderated the international symposium titled ‘The Mediterranean: Cultural Dialogue after the Arab Spring’, held at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC) in Barcelona and co-organized by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) and the Institut Carlemany d’Estudis Europeus (ICEE) of the UIC. There were two European speakers and 4 Arab speakers that tackled the following topics:
– Art and Culture
– Democratic Transition & Human Rights
– Civic Participation & Social Networks
– Gender & Women’s Rights
– Europe’s Perspective

The symposium focused on the expectations of the Arab civil society as to what the EU could offer in the post-revolution phase.

Many thanks to Dr. Enrique Banús for the incredible effort and the so much help that he provided throughout the whole thing.