How free can an individual be? -- Modern day debates on freedom of expression are arguably about the extent to which people can exercise their freedom.
Egyptian activist and blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy has brought the debate into spotlight once more, in the midst of massive political upheaval in her country, by posting a series of nude photographs of herself on her blog.
For the media, Elmahdy's brazen act may have become a topic with plenty of scope for abuse, and the 2.1 million page views that her blog received in a week may have been due to all the wrong reasons.
But are these facts reason enough to insult Elmahdy's act as a 20-year-old Internet activist's scandalous ways to attract attention?
Elmahdy's Nudity and Liberals' Backlash
The numerous death threats issued against Elmahdy are no surprise; the twist in the tale came when liberals and representatives of the feminist movement in Egypt denounced the young activist with nasty comments and joined the conservatives in issuing threats.
Even radical-feminist Internet forums are flooded with messages that reduce her act to a convenient way to 15 minutes of fame.
I think calling it '15 minutes of fame' is trivializing what she is doing, Prominent gay activist and journalist Ashley Tellis told IBTimes.
She is making an important political statement. Nudity in her particular context is much more than a liberal act. It is a defiant political gesture which while exposing her to great risk, is making a point about democratic values and the right to dissent. She is not some flash-in-the-pan figure seeking instant fame. She is a well-known activist, and there are many levels of political protest involved in her gesture. I think those should be studied and I hope that in the long run this extends the political horizon in Egypt, Tellis said.
Elmahdy's rather young age has become fodder for her liberal critics to label her as a naïve rebel.
She is very young, said Islam Kamel, an engineering student at the American University in Cairo, to Bikyamasr, an Egyptian independent news site. There is also the chance that she has a philosophy behind her actions, but it is not thought out properly.
Elmahdy's nude photography was the most daring conflicting act I've seen for a long time, but was also the worst thing that happened to the liberal movement in Egypt, Kamel said, reflecting the opinion of most Egyptian revolutionaries, including feminists.
Her actions have done nothing but stir a debate and allow the conservatives to have one more reason to call for an Islamic state and blame liberals and seculars for this. You will probably see one of them saying 'this is how all women will act if Egypt isn't saved by an Islamic leader,' Kamel says.
'Moderate' Liberals of Egypt
Elmahdy has received support from Egyptian expatriates, Western-Arab journalists and representatives of the American art community.
The liberals fighting for political power in Egypt will not support it because they want to be seen as moderate and want power, Tellis says.
The feminist movement in Egypt, such as it is, is quite conservative despite radical claims made for it by anthropologists like Saba Mahmood. They stand by the veil as feminist, for example, so they are highly unlikely to believe nudity is a good thing, he says.
A Confused Revolution
The current protests at Tahrir Square are marked by the ideological polarization between liberals and Islamists, who argue over the kind of civilian government that might succeed the military rule. With Egypt's decades-old history of repression, the Liberals don't fancy a truly radical revolution, and are happy to somehow form a civilian government even when the repressive social values remain intact.
This is exactly why liberals conveniently distanced themselves from a fiercely radical activist.
In the context of an Egypt that got progressively more conservative over the Mubarak decades, this (Elmahdy's nude photography) is a bold step. Also, at this transitional moment, it is important to set standards for freedom of expression and democratic values that both the parties vying for power in Egypt might not be ready to support, Tellis says.