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updated 11/17/2011 11:23:49 AM ET 2011-11-17T16:23:49

An activist who posted nude pictures of herself on her blog to protest limits on free expression has triggered an uproar in Egypt, drawing condemnations from conservatives and liberals alike.

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Some liberals feared that the posting by 20-year-old university student Aliaa Magda Elmahdy would taint them in the eyes of deeply conservative Egyptians ahead of Nov. 28 parliamentary elections in which they are trying to compete with fundamentalist Islamic parties.

Nudity is strongly frowned upon in Egyptian society, even as an art form.

Elmahdy's posting is almost unheard of in a country where most women in the Muslim majority wear the headscarf and even those who don't rarely wear clothes exposing the arms or legs in public.

Elmahdy wrote on her blog that the photographs — which show her standing wearing only stockings — are "screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy."

The blog has received 1.5 million hits since she posted the photos earlier this week.

The posting comes at a time when Egypt, a nation of some 85 million people, is polarized between Islamists and liberals ahead of the elections, the first since the February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

'Double disaster'
Members of the most hardline Islamic movement in Egypt, the Salafis, have warned voters during their campaigns that liberals will corrupt Egypt's morals.

"This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue," Sayyed el-Qimni, a prominent self-described secular figure, said referring to Islamists.

"It's is a double disaster. Because I am liberal and I believe in the right of personal freedom, I can't interfere," el-Qimni said Wednesday night on one of Egypt's popular TV political talk shows, "90 Minutes."

Story: Egypt army kills hope: female presidential candidate

The April 6 movement, one of the most prominent liberal activist groups that led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, issued a statement denying claims by some on the Web that Elmahdy is a member of the group.

The posting prompted furious discussions on Internet social media sites, with pages for and against her put up on Facebook.

Slideshow: Egypt's Mubarak steps down (on this page)

One activist, Ahmed Awadallah, praised her in a Tweet, writing, "I'm totally taken back by her bravery."

A supporter, who identified himself as Emad Nasr Zikri, wrote in a comment on Elmahdy's blog, "We need to learn how to separate between nudity and sex."

He said that before fundamentalist influence in Egypt, "there were nude models in art school for students to draw."

'Mentally sick'
Some 100 people liked his comment, while thousands flooded the site with insults.

Some denounced Elmahdy as a "prostitute" and "mentally sick" or urged police to arrest her.

Elmahdy did not reply to attempts by The Associated Press to contact her.

Her move comes as Salafis have become more assertive in pushing their attitude that women should be kept out of the public eye, promoting a Saudi Arabia-style segregation of the sexes.

On Salafi parties' campaign banners, photos of the few female candidates are replaced by drawings of a flower.

During a recent election rally in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Salafists covered up a public statue that depicted mermaids.

Story: Egypt Islamists: military will not escape scrutiny

Salafi clerics appearing on TV talks shows have refused to appear face-to-face with female TV hosts, unless the presenter puts on a headscarf or in one case, a barrier was placed between the two.

Most recently, an Islamist preacher crashed into a university musical concert in a Nile Delta province of Mansoura, saying music was forbidden by Islam and that he wanted to "promote virtue and prevent vice" — the term used for the mission of Saudi Arabia's religious police.

Women rights activist Nehad Abou el-Qomsan said conservatives "keep adding layers to cover up the women and deny their existence."

But, she said, what Elmahdy did "is also rejected because posing nude is a form of body abuse."

Elmahdy and her boyfriend Kareem Amer, also a controversial blogger, have challenged Egypt's social strictures before.

Earlier this year, they posted mobile phone video footage of themselves debating with managers of a public park who threw them out for public displays of affection.

Amer, who spent four years in prison for blog posting deemed insulting to Islam and for calling Mubarak a "symbol of tyranny," chided liberals who condemned Elmahdy.

"I think we should not be afraid of those in power or Islamists, as much as we should be worried of politicians claiming to be liberal," he wrote on his Facebook page. "They are ready to sacrifice us to avoid tarnishing their image."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
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    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

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