With her performance art and activism, Aliaa Elmahdy is putting herself at risk to raise the issue of women’s rights in Egypt.
In 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial Somali-Dutch politician, wrote the script for Submission, an 11-minute film highlighting the subjugation of women in Islamic societies. Within the Netherland’s growing Muslim community, the film immediately provoked outrage. Among other offenses, Hirsi Ali’s film projected sexist Koranic verses on the nude female form. Three months after the film premiered on Dutch television, its director, Theo van Gogh, a relative of Vincent van Gogh, was found murdered in the streets of Amsterdam, his head nearly severed from his body and a note secured to his chest with a knife, promising that Hirsi Ali, a supposed apostate from Islam, would be the next victim.
After Van Gogh's murder, Hirsi Ali's formerly sedate life as a Dutch politician was besieged by death threats. To mock Islam—and especially its holy book—is to invite a particular type of risk, especially for those who question not just gender roles within Islam, but the religion’s most basic tenets.