الموت على فرو ناعم، مقال رأي لمحمد دريوس

Evening over Damascus Syria

بات هناك سوريتان، سوريا الذاكرة، وسوريا الحاضر والفارق بينهما يتسع كل يوم. يرسم محمد دريوس إحساس أن تعيش في دمشق اليوم. 

منذ أول قذيفة ثورية سقطت في المدينة، قررنا أن غرفة ابنتي الصغيرة، في زاوية المنزل، هي الغرفة الأكثر أماناً، ذلك أنها تقع في أقصى جنوب البيت، بعيدة عن الشمال الذي تأتي منه الهدايا المميتة. ونافذتها الوحيدة محمية بجدار جارنا الذي انتهز فرصة التسيب، وبنى طابقا كاملا، أغلق علينا الهواء القليل، لكنه أيضا حمى الجهة الجنوبية للبيت. للفوضى حسناتها أيضا

والغرفة هذه بألوانها المتعددة كما يليق بطفلة، بدباديبها وأرانبها وباربياتها، تمثل أفضل مكان للموت. ماذا أطلب أكثر من موت على فرو ناعم؟

وضعنا التعليمات التي اتفقنا عليها بوجوب الهروب الى الغرفة المحصّنة كما سميناها عند الشعور بأي خطر، إضافة إلى اقناع ابنتي الصغيرة ــ وهذا كان الأصعب ــ بأن أمها هي المسؤولة عنها اذا حصل شيء. لا أظن أني الوحيد الذي كتب وصية أو عبّر عنها شفهياً على الأقل، ذلك أن موتا صغيرا غامضا ومفاجئاً ينتظر كل سوري. كنت مصرّاً على عدم وهب أحذيتي التي جمعتها بكثير من العناية لأحد. الأحذية كائنات لطيفة، تفاعل رائحة الأقدام والجلد يصنع إلفة خاصة بي لا أرغب بإهدارها، لا أريد أن أمشي بأقدام أحد

تسمح لنا فترات التقنين الكهربائية بدوام لا يتجاوز الثلاث ساعات، بعدها نذهب إلى شؤوننا الشخصية بالأجر الذي تسمح به الثلاث ساعات. ثلاث ساعات من العمل القليل أصلاً لنستحق راتبنا الذي هو أقل. التقنين طاول ليس فقط قدرتنا على تدبر شؤون حياتنا بل أيضا مقدرتنا على التنفس دون ألم، كأنه تقنين هوائي أيضاً. عمل أقل يساوي أجراً أقل، يساوي كحولاً أكثر، ومشادات عائلية أكبر. تقنين ثلاثي، الثلاثة رقم مقدس في الكثير من الديانات والمذاهب، عند المسيحيين وعند العلويين أيضا، ربما لهذا اعتمدته الدولة، يجعلنا أكثر قدرة على التحمّل وعدم الاعتراض، ويقولون ان الدولة لا تحابي الأقليات. صرنا نرتب حياتنا ثلاثا ثلاثا، نعطي المواعيد الخارجية في ثلاث العتمة والمواعيد الداخلية في ثلاث الضوء، نذهب إلى العزاء في ثلاث مغايرة عن ثلاث التهنئة، يجب أن أرتب موتي في ثلاث مناسبة، من هو الأحمق الذي سيغادر بيتاً فيه كهرباء ليقدم تعازيه؟

بدأنا مشاريع التقشف التي تتناسب مع انحدارنا الى مصاف الفقراء، تخلينا عن برجوازيتنا الصغيرة التي بدأت مع الانتهاء من سداد أقساط المنزل، تخلينا عن نعمنا الصغيرة، مباهجنا التافهة التي كانت تجعل الحياة أسهل. بدأنا بتبديل نوعية التبغ الذي نستخدمه، زوجتي باتجاه نوعية رخيصة لكنها أنيقة، وأنا باتجاه التبغ البلدي الذي تصنع رائحته مزيجاً من الاختناق والازعاج. ثم النسكافيه، مشروبنا الأثير، استبدلناه بنوعية هندية بربع السعر والطعم، ثم مبيض القهوة الذي استبدلناه بدوره بنوع سعودي بادئ الأمر، ومن ثم بنوع أرجنتيني أرخص. عندما أجلس صباحا لأتناول قهوتي مع سيجارتي الأولى غالبا ما أتساءل ماذا أشرب فعلا بحق الجحيم؟ ثم يقودني الأمر لأفكر إن كانت هذه حياتي فعلا أم أنها حياة مستبدلة بنوعية أرخص؟

استبدلنا كلّ شيء بشيء أرخص، ولم يتأخر التجار عن موافاتنا بالبدائل: لحم جواميس هندي يأتي طافحاً بالشحوم الثلاثية والكوليسترول وو.. والجراثيم أيضا؛ سكّر بلا منشأ تحتاج إلى ضعف الكمية المعتادة منه لتحلية كأس شاي؛ بنزين خفيف، لا أعلم من أي بئر غبية أتى، تسير به السيارات نصف المسافة، ملابس صينية تختلف قياساتها عن قياساتنا، إذ يحتاج الشخص المتوسط الحجم إلى قياس XXL. أحذية مستعملة، ألبسة داخلية مستعملة، هواء مستعمل، لكن لا كرسي ليقعد فيه الرجل، معلبات مجهولة المصدر، بضائع في أغلبها مجهولة المصدر، وحده الموت يأتي واضحاً، بمصدر موثوق به وبشهادة منشأ موثقة.

أنظر إلى ابنتي النائمة بوداعة وأخاف أن يجري استبدالي، والحال كذلك، بأب أرخص، قليل الصراخ والطلبات.

في الفترات التي يسمح لنا بها المتحاربون بالهدوء والكفّ عن التفكير في الموت الآتي، أنصرف الى قصائدي القليلة التي كتبتها في الفترة الماضية. أزيد عليها بقع دم وجثامين، جنازير ومدرعات وعربات محطمة. شيئا فشيئا تتحول القصائد إلى بيانات غاضبة، أو إلى مراثٍ حزينة. كل يوم أكتشف مفردة دامية أخرى أحشرها في القصيدة. شيئا فشيئاً تتحول أغصان الزيتون والفراشات والأزهار العطرة إلى جثث متعفنة وجماجم مفتتة وأقفاص صدرية مخسوفة، إلى بيوت بلا سطوح وشوارع رمادية. أرغب في أن أقول لزوجتي أحبكِ، فتخرج الكلمة على شكل نصل دامٍ. أرغب بتقبيل ابنتي فيبقبق الدم من شفتيّ.

نمارس حياتنا بربع الحواس المطلوبة. عين على الشريط الإخباري وعين على المصباح، أذن مع الضجة المخيفة في مكان وقوع القذيفة، وأذن مع المذيعات المتجمّلات، يد على جهاز التحكم ويد على كوب القهوة الباردة. نسرق قبلات مختنقة، عناقا سريعا يشبه عناقات اللصوص المطاردين، ممارسة خائفة سريعة. دقائق وينتهي كل شيء، في آخر مرة سقطت فيها القذيفة في الشارع المجاور قبل الانتهاء بدقيقة، كان الصوت مخيفاً لدرجة أني أيضاً تقلصت إلى ربع حجمي العادي، اعتذرت عن فشلي وانتحيت ركنا أدخن فيه.

الحرب لا تدعني أنهي ممارسة الحب بطريقة لائقة.

نقلاً عن موقع الأخبار.

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Tales of the Trash by Peter Hessler

I stumbled upon this really good story by Peter Hessler explaining modern Egypt through the stories of its garbage.

A garbage truck in Streets of Manshiyat Nasser, Mokattam, CairoIn Cairo, my family lives on the ground floor of an old building, in a sprawling, high-ceilinged apartment with three doors to the outside. One door opens onto the building’s lobby, another leads to a small garden, and the third is solely for the use of the zabal, or garbageman, who is named Sayyid Ahmed. It’s in the kitchen, and when we first moved to the apartment, at the beginning of 2012, the landlady told me to deposit my trash on the fire escape outside the door at any time. There was no pickup schedule, and no preferred container; I could use bags or boxes, or I could simply toss loose garbage outside. Sayyid’s services had no set fee. He wasn’t a government employee, and he had no contract or formal job. I was instructed to pay him whatever I believed to be fair, and if I pleased I could pay him nothing at all.

Many things in Egypt don’t work very well. Traffic is bad, and trains get cancelled; during the summer, it’s not unusual to have five electricity blackouts in a single day. One year, we couldn’t buy bottled water for months, because the plant that produced the water somehow caught fire. Since we moved into the apartment, the country has cycled through three constitutions, three Presidents, four Prime Ministers, and more than seven hundred members of parliament. But there hasn’t been a single day when the trash wasn’t cleared outside my kitchen door. As a whole, Cairo’s waste-collection system is surprisingly functional, considering that it’s largely informal. In a sprawling, chaotic city of more than seventeen million, zabaleen like Sayyid have managed to develop one of the most efficient municipal recycling networks in the world.

Read the full story on the NewYorker website.

The West Loves the Story of Iran’s Jailed ‘Happy’ Dancers For All the Wrong Reasons

An interesting take on the FreeHappyIranians story. This was written by senior editor for islawmix, Sana Saeed.

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When there’s slow movement on the hashtag battlefield, you can always count on a story about Muslim women and headscarves to pick up the pace.

On May 7, in her Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty column, Golnaz Esfandiari highlighted a Facebook page started by Iranian political journalist (in exile), Masih Alinejad, now called “My Stealthy Freedom.” The page features images of various Iranian women defying the national law that dictates women be covered with a headscarf at all times in public.

 285a519397118c2a6743292c6663fc52 (2)

The story, which has the necessary ingredients of a Western media fantasy, picked up in the English press immediately. Hell, even George Takei shared the story, expressing his awe at “[some] very brave women in Iran … doing something extraordinary on Facebook.” The story is still popping up online, and the Facebook group itself now boasts over 315,000 followers — an incredible increase from its initial few hundred, then few thousand, followers over the course of less than two weeks.

And just this week, attention was turned to Iran once more in the name of freedom of expression.

A group of young, trendy, Iranians (including three women without their headscarves) were arrested for “indecency” after creating a video of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s hit song, “Happy.” This story, too, garnered the attention of social media crusaders when news of the arrest broke. The group has now been released.

 

 

Iranian laws governing public morality and the possible punishments undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the citizenry. For women, especially, to be publicly engaging in defiance of laws that limit their expressions of self — as really anywhere — is a risk and feat worth acknowledging.

But there’s a self-centered quality of our appetite for these stories. We are uncomfortably selective in our interest in which human rights stories from Iran get our attention.

There’s a reason why the “My Stealthy Freedom” page has been lauded as a “silent revolution,” and stories of life under the country’s crippling sanctions are underreported: These stories reinforce a warped narrative of Iran that is all too familiar in the West.

In response to the kind of coverage this story has received, editors of AJAM Media Collective, Shima Houshyar and Behzad Sarmadi pointed out the trouble with the seductive, oversimplified narrative evident through these stories:

These articles produce simplistic generalizations for the sake of provocative and yet easily digestible reading. They do so by: treating women’s bodily surfaces as a measure of societal progress and morality; romanticizing the notion of resistance; and eliding the significance of class and consumer culture in everyday urban life.

Houshyar and Sarmadi also point out that a western audience has a tendency to “romanticize resistance,” which only offers solidarity if its “own values and ideals seems apparent in the resistance.”

In short, these stories aren’t told with the intention of understanding — they’re told for the sake of consumption.

 

Images Credit: YouTube and facebook.

That means that the voices that really matter here — Iranian women that actually live with enforced dress codes — are lost in the coverage.

According to Houshyar and Sarmadi, “There is a significant internal conversation and a long history of engagement with the headscarf that is never part of any external conversation on the headscarf in Iran or on Iranian women.”

And that internal conversation, about mandatory veiling, is one that should not be dismissed or ignored. As Alinejad noted in an e-mail correspondence with PolicyMic, “[by] the time the international publicity came, [the Facebook page] had already become established in Iranian circles … with no publicity at all I was getting more than 50 photos a day.”

And in a similar vein, the story of the Iranians arrested for making a “Happy” video is a part of a wider conversation on censorship and dissent, or as Houshyar pointed out about the unfolding story on Wednesday:

But these nuances were lost in the online chorus of outrage. That’s because our envisioning of Iran and Iranians has been and remains limited to the sorts of issues that redeem our own beliefs and visions of ‘freedom’. The issues and stories that indict us of any complacency and wrongdoing are ignored or justified. When Iranians are the denied the apparent basic human right to make a Pharrell video, we are maddened and disappointed. When Iranians are unable to access basic medical supplies as a result of our sanctions, we don’t even know.

There is a space for solidarity and support that does not situate the external conversation and perspective as the dominant conversation and perspective; that does not create a hierarchy of rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, we still have not quite learned how to find it.

Sana Saeed is the Senior Editor for islawmix, a project incubated at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society dedicated to bringing clarity to discussions and portrayals of Islamic law in US news. She is also a researcher at the Islamophobia …
Article credit: PolicyMic

شباك رقم ١، من مذكرات سورية مكتئبة

   صادفت هذه التدوينة على مدونة مذكرات سورية مكتئبة وجذبتني بشدة لما تعكسه من تعقيدات سن المراهقة وعلاقة الأفراد بالجنس في ظل مجتمع محافظ كالمجتمع السوري.  أسلوب بسيط وجميل جداَ. استمتعوا بالقراءة.

” ياله من صباح خريفي كئيب” قالت ليلى في نفسها أثناء شربها لفنجان قهوتها بجانب شباك شقتها الصغيرة بالأشرفية، وبينما كانت تراقب المارة بحثاً عن قليل من التسلية في هذا النهار الممل، سمعت صوت جارتها “ناتالي” الخمسينية وهي توبخ زوجها جورج لنسيانه طقم أسنانه فوق طاولة المطبخ على مسمع من كل الجيران. مما أخذها بعيداً نحو صباح يوم أحد مشابه لهذا اليوم بالضبط منذ عشر سنين خلت

يومها نهضت ليلى من سريرها مسرعة نحو الشباك عندما سمعت صراخ والدتها قادماً من أسفل الشارع، ظناً منها بأنها قد تكون متورطة في شجار مع جارتها أم طوني في الطابق الأرضي بسبب عملية شطف الشرفة الأسبوعي الذي غالباً ما تبدأ نهار العطلة به دونما اهتمام بمن يجلس في الحديقة تحت الشرفة التي تحاول تنظيفها

ولكن ما رأته من النافذة كان مدهشاً للغاية ومختلفاً كلياً عما كانت تظن بأنه سيكون عليه في البدء; كانت أمها ممسكة بالأذن اليمنى لشاب لا تعرفه، يتلوي بجانبها من الألم، بينما كانت توبخه بصوت عال:
-مش عيب عليك، قد أمك أنا
-طنط واللهي مش قصدي، إجت عيني بالغلط
-بالغلط، مهيك؟ وهيدا شو هيدا

ونظرت بين قدميه، فغطى المنطقة بيديه بارتباك وبدأ لونه بالتحول من الحنطي المائل نحو البياض إلى اللون الوردي المتشح بالاحمرار وصرخ:
-واللهي مش عليكي طنط
فضربته بحقيبتها السوداء بحنق شديدِ وبدأت بالصراخ بأعلى صوتها
-مش علييي، على مين عم تبصبص يا عكروت يا قليل الأدب
صمتت قليلاً بينما كان صوت صراخ الشاب يملأ الحي، ثم صرخت مجدداً
-ابن مين انت، آه؟؟

وبينما كاد أن يغمى على ليلى من كثرة الضحك، التقت عينيها بعيني الشاب الذي كان شارباه في بدء نموهما فوق شفتيه. في تلك اللحظة، تسمرت هي وابتسامتها في مكانها فجأة، بينما نفض الشاب يد والدتها من على أذنيه ووقف بانتصاب في مكانه
-طنط عيب عليكي تتهمي ولاد الناس كيف منكان، بس تتحسي إنك صبية يعني

وبدل أن تنهال والدة ليلى عليه بالضرب مجدداً، نظرت في عينيه مشدوهة وغرقت في صمت طويل..

أطرقت برأسها قليلاً، ثم نظرت إليه مجدداً، ونظرت بعدها إلى الشارع الضيق الطويل التي كانت ابنتها واقفة على شباك منزلها في نهايته. عدلت هندامها، ومضت في طريقها إلى المنزل دون أن تنبس بحرف، بينما ظل الشاب معلقاً ما بين وجه ليلى الشاحب وما بين ظهر أمها التي كانت تمشي بتثاقل وبطء..

 يمكنكم قراءة المزيد من تدوينات مذكرات سورية مكتئبة هنا.

Femen: You’re Doing it Wrong

On Femen´s approach to feminism. An interesting read. This article was published on al-akhbar english website by Paola Salwan Daher and Joseph Daher

FEMEN | By Joseph Paris (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

FEMEN | By Joseph Paris (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Feminism, again, as we understand and wish to practice it, is a transnational, internationalist movement that stands in solidarity with women, workers, and the oppressed throughout the world.Women’s liberation is also intrinsically linked to the struggle against the capitalist system that focuses on the accumulation of profit by a certain class to the detriment of workers. On that note, it is paramount to underline that women are always the first to be hit by the negative effects of neo-liberal policies.

Let us also be very clear on another point: Femen, or Amina in Tunisia, or Alia al-Mahdi in Egypt are not to be vilified for their use of nudity as a means to impact social change. Granted, this is a tactic that is debatable. Many feminists have used nudity in the past as a sign of reclaiming their own bodies from society.

Still, the truth remains that no activist that chooses to use nudity should ever be attacked or threatened. No activist. Ever. Under no circumstances. It is the duty of leftist movements to stand behind these women and offer support, regardless of our personal beliefs as to their tactics.

This being said, one of the (many) issues with Femen is their own essentialist and paternalistic brand of feminism. Let’s try and break down Femen’s rhetoric and actions:

First, Femen’s understanding, or lack thereof, of Middle East and North African societies , reveal their Islamophobic tendencies. According to them, all Arab and Muslim (they don’t seem to know the difference) men are “waiting behind their wives with knives;” all Arab women are submissive little lambs.

For a self-proclaimed feminist movement, Femen seems to forget that patriarchy is universal and is not the social fact of certain given societies. Femen is essentializing women just as reactionary groups do. Just like reactionary groups stereotype women from the MENA region, Femen does the same, simply applying another set of values and prejudices.

MENA women could use a little solidarity, that is, movements who take up their agendas and publicize them around the world. What they do not need is co-optation of their struggles to advance Femen’s image throughout the world.

If Femen were truly promoting solidarity, they’d let women in the region speak for themselves. What they’re doing, however, is imposing their brand of feminism.

FEMEN | By Joseph Paris (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

FEMEN | By Joseph Paris (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

The words of Femen leader Inna Shevchenko perfectly illustrate the group’s total lack of respect for women. “They say they are against Femen, but we still say we are here for them. They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me.’”Reading these words, one cannot help but wonder where Femen was during the Arab revolutions. Indeed, women in the MENA have played a leading role in the revolutionary processes in their countries.

To stand in solidarity with these women would have been to help deconstruct the myths and prejudices of Arab women in mainstream western media. Instead, Femen repeats clichés and strenghtens discrimination against them, further isolating them form public debate.

Femen is telling women from the MENA region what to feel and how to act, but isn’t that what patriarchy has been doing for millenia?

Apart from staging naked happenings, Femen doesn’t seem to have any kind of vision to rid the world of patriarchy. They also seem to have zero perspective on social justice. Where is their analysis of power relations between economic actors? Where is their will to change political and legal frameworks oppressing women? Without structural changes there can be little emancipation for women. Wearing a beard and announcing an “International Topless Jihad Day” is of little help.

Their only impact is to reinforce the legitimacy of reactionary currents by offending rather than meaningfully reaching out to women, thus making the job of feminists twice as hard.

Finally, let us ponder the “hot boobs” issue. Is looking like a model a prerequisite for joining Femen? Wasn’t feminism supposed to question traditional gender roles and by doing so, to question traditional standards of beauty?

Femen cannot present itself as a feminist, subversive, revolutionary movement. It is unfortunate that their actions continue to make the headlines, furthering a whole slew of stereotypes, while actual progressive agendas remain in the shadows. As feminists, our aim should be to lash out at all prejudices and all forms of oppression. Anything else, and we’re right in the middle of our struggles being co-opted.

Paola Salwan Daher is UN advocacy representative at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, a writer, and a member of the feminist collective Nasawiya.

Joseph Daher is a political activist and assistant professor at the University of Lausanne and a SOAS PhD candidate. He runs the blog Syria Freedom Forever.

“Reading for All”, a General Egyptian Book Organization project whose patron was Suzanne Mubarak, previous Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s wife, subsidized the previously banned comic book “Dictatorship for Beginners: Bahgatos, President of Greater Bahgatia” and current Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is already learning a few lessons from it.

Pretty much like the Syrian National Film Organisation, a government body that funded some of the most critically acclaimed documentaries by local opposition figures then banned their screening in the country. An interesting reading by Egyptian journalist Mohamed Dahshan.

mohamed el dahshan. economist, writer, speaker, compulsive traveller.

Originally published in Foreign Policy: Transitions.

RHS: “The Great Bahgatos is on the People’s hearts”
LHS: “Bahgatia’s Statue of Liberty” – “safety matches” – “The Law”

My father recently bought a new copy of an old book. We couldn’t buy it earlier because it was virtually impossible to get one when Hosni Mubarak was president. You’ll understand why when you hear the title: Dictatorship for Beginners: Bahgatos, President of Greater Bahgatia. (You can see a copy here — in Arabic, but you don’t have to understand the text to enjoy it).

It’s a slim comic book, a pearl of Arab political satire, and the brainchild of caricaturist extraordinaire Bahgat Osman. Because it was banned for decades, I was recently surprised and delighted to find the book suddenly available on the Egyptian market — and subsidized by the Egyptian government at that.

Let me explain.

Bahgatos, the book’s protagonist…

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Waiting for Alia… a must read!

An Egyptian blogger decides to publish a nude self portrait on her blog, and hell breaks loose. The next thing she knows, she is called a “devil” and is attacked by both conservatives and liberals in her country for her “immorality”. Maya Mikdashi  wrote an article on why an adult woman’s decision to take a nude picture of herself and publish it on her blog has created more controversy across the Egyptian political spectrum than the fact that Egyptian soldiers were administering “virginity tests” with their fingers on and in female protestors.  A very good article and analysis.

Waiting for Alia

Aliya Mehdi - علياء مهدي

It is quite easy to see a woman naked. In fact, naked women are always only an internet search, an art gallery, a television show, or film away. The semi-naked, alluring female form is even more pervasive. These images stare at us from billboards, music videos, and television advertisements asking us with their flesh and their “fuck me” expressions to buy more and more things. Yes, images of naked women and/or semi-nude women are everywhere, including in the Arab world. They are meant to be consumed. But an image of a twenty-year-old university student nakedly staring down a self-timed camera with her legs spread incited death threats this past week in Cairo. After Magda Alia al-Mahdy circulated her photo on her blog, both conservatives and liberals attacked her for her immorality. While Islamists and other conservative socio-political groups have gone as far as to call her a “devil,” the liberal left has publicly disowned her, stating that they do not accept “atheists” in their movement. In private, many of the left-of-left Egyptian activists claim that Alia has committed a strategic crime that could potentially set the women’s rights movement back years, if not decades. While this last claim may be true, I would like to question what exactly it is that makes Alia’s self portrait so threatening, not just to the moral fabric of a largely Muslim society, but also to the ways in which female bodies are a site of political control and of capitalist consumption.

The idea that female bodies are sacrosanct, and that somehow they are “protected” from overt sexualization in Egypt is false. Contrary to what many of Alia’s detractors and what many commentators on the Arab world have said, female bodies have long been the site of struggle, interrogation, harassment, and commodification throughout the region. In particular, Cairo is famous for being the premiere public ass-pinching, breast-grabbing, and body-rubbing capital of the Arab world. The fact is that a woman (unveiled or not) cannot walk down a crowded Cairene street or take a public bus without expecting, and thus constantly guarding herself against, sexual harassment. In recent months, females involved in protests at Tahrir Square were subjected to “virginity tests” by the military junta. The “virginity tests” were administered via the age-old method of inserting two (male soldiers’) fingers into each woman’s vagina. These women were violated in order to ascertain whether they had engaged in consensual sexual activities. Of course, the real point of these virginity tests is not to actually see if someone is a virgin. The point is to humiliate, threaten, and to demonstrate and reassert control over a body and through that individual body, the body public and the notion of “public morality.” The point is to terrorize, and the aim of terrorism is always to instill fear (and hope that that fear will incite self-policing) in a civilian population. Sex as terror has been used in Abu-Ghraib, at Guantanamo Bay, in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Libya, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina, and in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. When it comes to female and non-normatively gendered male bodies, physical violation is commonplace not only in police cells in the Arab world, but in jails across the world. These violations are always public (even in the insidious form of the public secret), because the point is to demonstrate the impunity with which these citizens’ bodies can be violated by foreign and local powers

Of course, the female body is not only a site of political control and the regulation of patriarchal public morality. It is also a primary vehicle for making money. The horizontal and vertical cavalcade of visual imagery and signage that is ubiquitous throughout the city will have awed anyone who has been to Cairo. In Cairo and in Beirut, the little sister with a Napoleon complex, the public display of the sexualized female body is everywhere. Women in various stages of undress writhe and pose in film posters, advertisements, and publicity campaigns for female pop stars.

 [Lingerie ads in Beirut, celebrity billboard in Cairo]

In these images, the point is to titillate the viewer. More crudely put, these images hope to make the viewer/consumer think about sex and/or about what it means to be “sexy.” The trend is even more extreme in music videos, where women in various stages of undress slink up and down poles, swing around in slings, and are doused in water as if it were some sexy form of water-boarding. The three videos below are only representative of the fact that in many of these videos, it is unclear what exactly is the product; the music or the body. Two of the videos feature non-Egyptian singers “singing” in an Egyptian accent, signaling the fact that these videos, and this music, will sink or swim based on how it “performs” on the Egyptian market, the largest in the Arab world.

[Above: The singer Maria demonstrates how to lick different objects and insert others in your mouth. She then lays naked in a tub full of milk. Then cereal is dumped all over her, just in case you forgot that she is there for your consumption.]

[Above: Haifa Wehbe stars in a peep show. Slings and striptease are involved.]

[Above: Joe Ashkar is always “mhaypar,” a word not accidently close to “mhayyaj,” Lebanese parlance for “horny.” Lesbianism and  group sex is insituated. Everybody gets wet.]

Before we condemn or praise Alia’s decision to take a naked picture of herself and circulate it as either revolutionary or not we must understand the context in which her statement was made. It is not a context where the nude female form is foreign, and it is not a context where people don’t talk about sex. In fact, sex is at the center of much public anxiety and government policy. This is not surprising, given that at times of great social upheaval, much of a public’s anxieties about political change are fought on the terrain of sex and gender roles. But it is surprising that an adult woman’s decision to take a nude picture of herself and publish it on her blog has created more controversy across the political spectrum than the fact that Egyptian soldiers were administering “virginity tests” with their fingers on and in female protestors. It is less surprising that a photo meant to challenge, not titillate the viewer, has inspired more rage than film posters that pose a naked woman trying to escape the strategically placed grasps of a man, who is posed as a would-be rapist.

[movie poster in Cairo]

[movie poster in Cairo]

On her Blog Magda posted this commentary under her now infamous full frontal photo.”Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.”Alia’s picture does not play by the rules, and this is why both liberals and Islamists have condemned her. She is not “waiting” for the “right moment” to bring up bodily rights and sexual rights in post-Mubarak Egypt. She is not playing nice with the patriarchal power structures in Egypt. She is not waiting her turn. Her mouth is not open and pouting. Her breasts are not large. Her eyes are not hungry or afraid. She is not wearing high heels. Her vagina is uncovered. She is not selling anything, and she is not trying to turn us on. Her use of fishnet stockings appears to be a commentary on the clichés of commodified seduction. Her nudity is not about sex, but it aims to reinvigorate a conversation about the politics of sex and the uneven ways it is articulated across the fields of gender, capital, and control. She is staring back at us, daring us to look at her and to not turn away. Daring us to have this debate.

This article was published on Jadaliyya. It’s author, Maya Mikdashi, is a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology and Co-Director of the documentary film About Baghdad. She is co-founder of Jadaliyya Ezine