A woman activist who posted nude pictures of herself on her blog to protest limits on free expression has triggered an uproar in Egypt, drawing condemnations from conservatives and liberals alike.
Some liberals feared that the posting by 20-year-old university student Aliaa Magda Elmahdy would taint them in the eyes of deeply conservative Egyptians ahead of November 28 parliamentary elections in which they are trying to compete with fundamentalist Islamic parties.
Nudity is strongly frowned upon in Egyptian society, even as an art form. Elmahdy's posting is almost unheard of in a country where most women in the Muslim majority wear the headscarf and even those who don't rarely wear clothes exposing the arms or legs in public.
Elmahdy wrote on her blog that the photographs, which show her standing wearing only stockings, are "screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy." The blog has received 1.5 million hits since she posted the photos earlier this week.
The posting comes at a time when Egypt, a nation of some 85 million people, is polarised between Islamists and liberals ahead of the elections, the first since the February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Members of the most hardline Islamic movement in Egypt, the Salafis, have warned voters during their campaigns that liberals will corrupt Egypt's morals.
"This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue," Sayyed el-Qimni, a prominent self-described secular figure, said referring to Islamists.
"It's is a double disaster. Because I am liberal and I believe in the right of personal freedom, I can't interfere," el-Qimni said yesterday night on one of Egypt's popular TV political talk shows, "90 Minutes".
The April 6 movement, one of the most prominent liberal activist groups that led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, issued a statement denying claims by some on the Web that Elmahdy is a member of the group.
The posting prompted furious discussions on Internet social media sites, with pages for and against her put up on Facebook.
Meanwhile, women rights activist Nehad Abou el-Qomsan said conservatives "keep adding layers to cover up the women and deny their existence."
But, she said, what Elmahdy did "is also rejected because posing nude is a form of body abuse."