Mideast feminists reject Europe topless protests

Feminists in the Middle East are reacting with scorn and bewilderment to topless protests in Europe.

RABAT, Morocco — Bewilderment, scorn, resentment. Women's rights activists across the Middle East are reacting with everything but joy to topless demonstrations in Europe by a Ukrainian feminist group held in solidarity with a Tunisian woman who posted topless photos of herself protesting religious oppression.

They fear the bare breasts may hurt their cause more than help it, after FEMEN activists protested in front of mosques and Tunisian diplomatic missions last week to support 19-year-old Amina Tyler, who caused a scandal in her country with her Facebook postings.

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Tyler herself, a high school student, said that while she was encouraged by the solidarity, the burning of the black flag bearing the Muslim profession of faith in front of the Paris mosque was a step too far, even if the banner has been championed by ultraconservatives and jihadists.

"I am against that," she told French TV Canal+ on Saturday. "They didn't insult a certain kind of Muslim, the extremists, but all Muslims."

Tyler, who has described herself as a FEMEN member, said she now fears for her life in Tunisia after ultraconservative Muslim clerics recommended she be stoned to death for posting the photos. She said she wants to move abroad. Tunisia is one of the most liberal countries in the region, but her protest has shocked even mainstream society in her homeland, still conservative about nudity.

When Tyler's photos were followed with the FEMEN solidarity protests, largely by European women, in Milan, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, Tunisian women also felt as if foreigners were judging Islam.

Mideast feminists reject Europe topless protests: Tunisian Femen activist Amina is pictured on Canal+ television Monday. IMAGEAP Photo: Benoit Chaumont and Akim Rezgui, CAPA, Canal+

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.

"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."

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.

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

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