From Icon to Exile: The Price of a Nude Photo in Egypt

The role of women is the most fateful point of contention between Muslims and the rest of the world. The lives of women serve as a symbolic setting for this culture war.

Some pious Muslims are worried that their women will become like US singer Miley Cyrus. And people in Europe and the United States look to Egypt with concern, because they believe that it is their duty to rescue the veiled woman from the oppressive clutches of a male-dominated society.

In the West, it's easy to play the moral teacher when talking about women's rights in Egypt. But we should remind ourselves that, until 1958, it was illegal for a married woman in Germany to open her own bank account without her husband's consent. Less than 100 years ago, women were not allowed to vote in Germany. And women have only been permitted to serve in combat units in the German armed forces since 2001.

The conflict between the cultures is being waged with blunt instruments, a conflict over headscarves in German classrooms, burqas in France, high heels in Afghanistan and women driving cars in Saudi Arabia. In Pakistan, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl, in the head because she had fought for the right of girls to go to school. Dutch activist and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali lives under police protection because she criticized the violence committed against women by Muslim men in a short film.

And now Muslim preachers of hate have also set their sights on Aliaa Elmahdy. One person wrote on the Internet: "Her body should roast in hell."

Eager for Punishment to Set an Example

One of the men who accuse Elmahdy of committing sins is Mahmoud Abdul Rahman. He is a 32-year-old lawyer who works as a bookkeeper in the Egyptian finance ministry. Some 3,500 kilometers (2,190 miles) away from Elmahdy's hiding place in Sweden, we meet with Rahman in a café in the old section of Cairo. At the beginning of the interview, he says that he knows how strange his arguments must sound for a person from Europe. When he hears the call of the muezzin, Rahman interrupts the conversation to pray.

He believes that Sharia law should be applied in Egypt. He says that he loves Egypt the way he loves his mother, and that his love would be even greater if all women in the country wore veils.

There is a dark spot on his forehead. It comes from placing his head onto the floor five times a day to pray.

When he returns to the table in the café after praying, and says that men must protect women because they are weak, the lights suddenly go out in the entire neighborhood.

"I was sad when I saw Aliaa naked for the first time," says Rahman. When he found a video online last spring in which she was standing naked in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm, holding a Koran in front of her genitalia, Rahman knew it was his duty to God to take action. He sat down at his desk at home and wrote a letter to the Egyptian attorney general, asking that charges be brought against Elmahdy for waving around a Koran while she was naked. He wrote: "I ask Your Excellency to undertake all legal actions to deprive her of her Egyptian citizenship." The next morning, Rahman went to the office of the attorney general and filed his complaint. He hasn't received a response yet and doesn't know whether his letter will lead to a trial.

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