The Western media has been reporting that Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani has been told not to return to Iran because of her recent nude photo shoot published in Madame Le Figaro magazine.
It's actually much worse, and a little more complicated than that.
When Egyptian blogger Aliaa Mahdy, 20, published nude photos of herself on her blog in December Egypt exploded.
Although Egypt's liberals supported her right to self-expression, and while many women hailed her bravery, the country's religious conservatives in particular were enraged. Mahdy was subsequently threatened with death and rape.
The same is now occurring with Farahani. The Iranian-born actress "has been attacked by the Iranian government, calling her 'anti-Islam' and demanding that she be put to death for 'blasphemy'," Egyptian media outlet BikyaMasr is reporting.
In the West, Farahani's pictures in Madame Le Figaro are merely pictures of an actress, naked. In the Middle East and among certain religious conservatives they challenge convention and, along with it, the holders of power.
Farahani's photo shoot for a French magazine, is seen in Iran in an Iranian/Middle Eastern context. It is as Egyptian media outlet BikyaMasr puts it, "dabbling in women’s issues." Gelareh Bagherzadeh, 30, who campaigned for the rights of Iranian woman was shot dead yesterday near her home in Houston.
BikyaMasr says the actress "protested against the ultra-conservative nature of her home country, which she said in the interview, was “restricting the ability for Iran’s film industry to push forward."
The "idea that a woman can demand her rights through 'the shock of nudity' is not new to the world," a number of women reportedly told BikyaMasr.
“We have long had nudity in our history, and this concept and act of protest by Farahani is the next evolution in the battle for women to become equal and have full rights in the country,” Nadia, a professor told the Egyptian media outlet.
“It is really easy to condemn and call her ridiculous, but the reality is men are all logging on to see her naked body, just like they did in Egypt. At least now we can talk about women’s issues in this country and push empowerment forward,” the professor told BikyaMasr via telephone.
When Aliaa Mahdy was being denounced in the Egyptian media for her "pornography," as Rime Naguib in Egypt Independentnoted, "according to the latest “Google trends” statistics, Egypt ranks fourth worldwide in the highest web search requests for the word 'sex'."
The problem, Naguib explains, was not Aliaa Mahdy's nudity. The problem was that she presented herself as a person, and a woman; not just an object to cover up and undress at will. In both cases, the act of nudity was a challenge to convention. It was, in effect, saying, I am here, I am a person, and I am your equal.