Don’t strip for us: A great cause, A bad idea.
Activists fail when they speak a language that people don’t understand. Today the pictures of Alia ElMahdi, Egyptian activist, stripping infront of the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm popped on my timeline (NSFW). I was disappointed.
Alia is speaking a language that appeals only to a European market/news. Are they who she’s fighting for? Are they the supporters she wants to reach? Are they the thousands of Egyptian and Arab women that she wants to represent and fight for? No. When fighting for the rights of people, fight for it in their language; their street language.
It’s not Alia’s fault. I personally have an admiration to “shock” activism/promotion. stripping to the basics for a cause has worked for some, but rarely does it make a substantial change. It attracts attention, makes a statement, but not a change. It also stirs too much side chatter that harms the main cause. Alia, like many young people in the region is a child of a world that is far more connected, interlinked, tolerant, free and ambitious than the past generations. The mind gap in how we see the world and “they” do is not to be underestimated. The mind gap between young people in the parts of the region that are still developing/connecting and those that are “progressive” are even worse, because they have to live together longer than the past generation.
This communication dilemma is not Alia alone’s pitfall, in fact it is something many NGOs and activists in Lebanon particularly and across the region are trapped in. You can’t impact what you are not a part of or don’t understand. People are not affected but what they don’t relate to. If you parade down the street naked screaming for equal rights, people who you are fighting, screaming and striving for will think your mad, and re-actively move away from you and “your cause”. But take the opposite scenario, be a part of them, their culture, their language, their mind-set and cloth and open the door from there. Fight for their cause in their Language, in the way entrapped women want to be heard, the way they want to be seen, answer their fears and insecurities. Not yours!
The mass of Egyptian women are probably more offended by Alia’s demeanor than proud. The mass of European media is probably more than proud and delighted.
Conclusion. With all due respect to Alia’s bravery and cause. You have not been heard.
Feedback and counter arguments, opinions, comments are all welcome.. it’s a free web.