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Mideast feminists reject Europe topless protests

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 10, 2013 at 6:16 am •  Published: April 10, 2013
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Across the region, Tyler's photos sparked debate among women activists who didn't want to limit freedom of expression, but felt that such protests should take other forms.

Jenan Mubarak, of Iraq's Center for Women's Rehabilitation and Employment, endorsed Amina's right to protest, but argued that topless demonstrations were counterproductive to promoting women's rights.

"I reject the idea that a woman's body is used to reach any objective," she said. "I want others to appreciate my mind, the way I speak, to respect the way I am trying to gain my rights."

Shatha al-Janabi, an Iraqi writer and feminist, echoed that view.

"Every woman has the right to express what is inside her. Women have genuine demands, particularly Arab women, because the patriarchy is so, so strong," she said. "But there are many ways to demand equality in a Middle Eastern society. Nudity isn't acceptable here."

Moroccan pro-democracy activist Zineb Belmkaddem maintained that using a woman's naked body to change policy is simply bad for women.

"Exposing the woman's body ... reinforces the image that objectifies women actually, no matter how FEMEN would like to think that the action frees them somehow," she said. "I tell FEMEN, 'call me when exposing your breasts gets you to break the glass ceiling.' And if it does, then it's probably for the wrong reasons."

But FEMEN members ask: Would anybody have paid heed to the FEMEN message in the Middle East had the protests been fully clothed?

"I don't think if we did it with clothes on, people would pay attention to the message — it gets more attention if were are semi-nude," said Meriam, a Tunisian member of FEMEN living in Paris who asked that her last name not be used to protect her safety.

She expressed no regret for burning the flag since it is closely associated with the jihadists and Salafis who have been the most vocal in the region about repressing women.

"For me this flag is not the Muslim flag," she said by telephone from Paris. "It never hung in mosques, just in the hands of Bin Laden and his colleagues."

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Hadid reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Bouazza Ben Bouazza from Tunis, Tunisia and Aya Batrawy from Cairo contributed to this report.