A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's Official: Femen's First Topless Protest in Tunis Itself Has Finally Made Nudity Boring

Oh, okay, I admit that like so much of the Western media, I've paid lots of attention to Aliaa ElMahdy's "nude blogger" case in Egypt and the more recent Amina Tyler flap in Tunisia. but hey, Tunisia's new constitution is about to be debated, and all you can find on the Internet is the fact that Femen, the Ukrainian topless protest group, staged their first protest in the Arab world today in front of a courthouse in Tunis. This has passed the point of silliness. Previous protests had been in front of Tunisian embassies in Europe. But to get topless activists in the Arab world, Femen imported them from Europe.

Up to now, actual female nudity in public in Tunisia has been limited to the tourist beaches, but this whole story has long since run out its 15 minutes of fame. Over a month ago I posted on what I called "The Last Word (I Hope) on Femen's 'Topless Jihad,'" but no such luck.

I suppose Femen, a Ukrainian femnist group, may have some points to make in Europe, but their whole approach to the Arab world has been askew from day one. They were shouting "Free Amina" when Amina was free, though perhaps under family constraints. They alienated, rather than reinforced, most women's activists in Tunisia. Many Muslim women saw their denunciation of Islam as directed not just at male domination but at believers like themselves. The neocolonial theme was frequently raised by Femen's Arab feminist critics.

Now, Amina is actually under arrest, though not for appearing topless on the Internet: she was arrested during the recent confrontations in the religious city of Kairouan between government forces and the Ansar al-Shari‘a Salafist movement. While many suspect she planned to disrobe, she never got that far: she is charged with carrying a dangerous object (reportedly pepper spray) and may also be charged with cemetery desecration for writing the word "Femen" on a cemetery wall.

Those may seem like relative misdemeanors, but they are legal violations and have nothing to do with nudity.She appears in court tomorrow. That provoked today's demonstration at the court. As usual, they wrote slogans on their bare torsos, in this case "Breast Feed Revolution," though Tunisia's revolution is healthier than most from the Arab Spring. What does "Breast Feed Revolution" even mean? They also chanted "Free Amina!" and "Fuck your morals!," a slogan Amina had written on her body.

Today's demonstration got plenty of attention, AFP here; The Guardian  here, Tunisia Live here.

The three women arrested for protesting topless today were one German and two French Femen activists. No locals. As I think I've pointed out before, they are hardly the first French and German women to appear topless in Tunisia; it's just that the others do it at tourist resorts and the authorities say nothing. Oh, and France was the colonial power: a little imperial condescension perhaps?

All they've done at this point is make the subject somewhat tedious, which takes some doing. For the curious there is a slideshow at Huffington Post (from which the obscured, PG photo above comes) and a YouTube video here; needless to say, Not Safe for Work, but not exactly interesting, either. Femen has finally succeeded, I fear, in making nudity boring. (YouTube usually bars toplessness but didn't here; maybe they were also too bored to care.)

Femen has made nudity boring enough that YouTube lets it on. They've made bare boobs boring. The constant repetition of 'fuck your morals," which they shout there, has also made "fuck" boring.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Enough on boring nudity! Let me try to rectify the misguided focus of media coverage of Tunisia with some really important news.

An-Nahdha leader Rashed Ghannouchi has been in Washington meeting with senior U.S. officials and addressing public audiences (yesterday at the conference of the Center for Islam and Democracy and today at Brookings). Ghannouchi made news which, to my knowledge, has gone unreported in the U.S. media. He said that work on the constitution by drafting committees has been finished and the final product will go to the National Assembly "in a few days." It is the product of months of outreach discussion fora, intended to reach a rough consensus. Ghannouchi was at pains to say that An-Nahdha did not want to dominate the process, even though it had won a large plurality of seats in elections to the Constituent National Assembly.

I am trying not to sound like a cheer leader for Ghannouchi, but it is hard not to compare him very favorably to Mohammed Mursi in Egypt, to name one prominent failure to achieve consensus.

Neither Ghannouchi nor CSID provided a text of the draft, but the former's description sounded positive on a number of hot button issues, like role of shari'a law, tolerance of non-Muslims and separation of powers, including dividing executive power between a president and a prime minister. (Ghannouchi did not mention female nudity, but what he did talk about seemed a lot more critical to Tunisia's future!)

Hopefully, the text will show up once it goes to the assembly, and I hope you will bring it to us via this blog. I am not expecting to see it in the Washington Post or even in the New York Times!