x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nude photos are first-rate political protest

Women in three Muslim countries who posed without clothes as a form of protest have made the ultimate social sacrifice, an Arabic pundit writes. Other topics: the roots of change, and satire as a political tool.

Nude activists commit social suicide in an effort to draw attention to the oppression of women

The nude protests by Egypt's Aliaa Elmahdy, Iran's Golshifteh Farahani and, most recently, Tunisia's Amina Tyler are incomparable with any previous feminist protest in the Arab and Muslim worlds, wrote Jihad Al Zein in an opinion article in the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

When young educated women from the Muslim world pose nude, it indicates their moral strength to stand up against the oppression of women.

That is because in a sense they sacrifice their bodies - the utmost sacrifice any woman can make, he argued.

Nude protest is akin to social suicide. But such protests are political acts par excellence, according to the writer.

Not only are protests of this type in sharp contrast with the oppressive culture, but they also represent the most extreme acts against domination by fundamentalist ideologies.

Ms Elmahdy and Ms Amina Tyler posted photos of themselves, naked, on Facebook - in their home countries. It was comparatively less risky for the Iranian actress Farahani to appear naked in a French magazine. At least she was far from her home country, where she had previously suffered harassment by security forces for acting in a film.

"You may agree or disagree with their methods, but these three ladies, probably without any coordination, are setting the stage for what is gradually becoming the boldest forms of protest against the current fundamentalist domination in the Arab world and Iran," the writer went on to say.

Should such daring acts be understood as something of a "suicide operation" that indicates the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism?

By baring themselves, these three women have made other forms of feminist expressions appear rather conservative by comparison.

But that does not mean that nude protest is the right form of protest. However, this particular expression of dissent could become a trend in the region in the future.

However, Tunisian feminist figures have denounced Ms Tyler's nudity. And they have a right to do so. But a member of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, who posed topless in Paris in support of her Arab sisters, has won support in Europe.

While stripping remains one of the most audacious of all forms of protest to have emerged in the Muslim world - a form of sacrifice that amounts to social suicide - it is known that not every case of nudity is a form of protest. Indeed, commodified nudity is the prototype of women's subordination.

No matter what one thinks of nude protests, the modern history of Muslim women's struggle will not be recorded without mention of the "extremism" of these three women, the writer concluded.

Real change requires a cultural revolution

The fallout of the Arab uprisings has proven once again that any political and social action that does not draw on a parallel culture is not viable, noted Karam Al Helou in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

While the jury is still out on whether it is economy, politics or culture that is the deciding factor for any substantial change, in the last half of the 20th century major Arab thinkers including Abdallah Laroui, Abed Al Jaberi and Adunis argued that a cultural revolution that alters stagnant ideas would be the best way to begin an Arab renaissance.

What is unfolding in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria is a testament to the failure of the political transformation to influence society, the writer observed.

A political alteration is not enough for social progress. As long as patriarchy and monoculture persist, and tribalism continues to prevail over nationhood, the social and political landscape will continue to remain a battleground, he added.

The political forces cannot win the battle for Arab freedom unless it is preceded by, or at least happens in parallel with, a change in the cultural dynamic.

To achieve a sustainable political transformation, Arab uprisings must turn into a cultural revolution in every sphere - a revolution that creates a radical change in ideological and mental make-up - to pave the way for a new Arab citizen.

 

Satirist offers perfect remedy for sadness

If Mohammed Morsi, the President of Egypt, resigns and satirist Bassem Youssef runs for presidency, he will certainly win the election by a landslide, not with a slim margin like Mr Morsi, wrote Zahra Morie in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

Nineteen episodes into his show, Al Barnameg, Youssef already faces 29 lawsuits on charges of insulting the president and religion, the writer noted.

Youssef, a surgeon who used to heal ailing hearts, has taken it upon himself to heal the psychological wounds of the Egyptian people with satire and humour, she wrote.

The president has been a permanent target ever since Youssef started his television show, that has become extremely popular.

When the incumbent regime foolishly summoned the surgeon-turned-satirist for questioning, it was doing him a favour. He became an overnight sensation and a subject of discussion in world's major newspapers and on news channels.

The prosecutor found himself alone facing Youssef - the antidepressant against scowls. When inquisitors sought to spread gloom among the people, they lost to the satirist, whose weekly programme has become a panacea for the melancholy that runs deep into the public psyche.

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

aezzoitni@thenational.ae