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Mo Salah's shirtless shoot with lingerie model sparks 'modesty double standards' debate

Mo Salah has been lionised as a Muslim and Arab role model [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2019

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A shirtless photo shoot involving Mo Salah and a lingerie model has sparked a deeper debate about modesty double standards in the Arab world.
Liverpool FC's Mo Salah has come under fire for posing shirtless on the cover of men's magazine GQ after winning the publication’s Man of the Year award, sparking a debate about double standards of 'modesty' norms relating to gender.

Images of the shoot, which were released on Friday, showed the Egyptian footballer alongside Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, who won the magazine's Fashion Icon award.

"Each time he steps on a pitch, Mohamed Salah balances the expectations of a nation – and one of the world’s most famous football clubs," GQ said of Salah.

But once the photos reached social media, it was a different sort of expectations which came up for debate.

"Any Arab woman in the public spotlight wouldn’t be able to get away with 1/1000 of what Mo Salah is celebrated for and its for that reason I stopped stanning this man and won’t celebrate any Arab man until Arab women are afforded the same unconditional support," wrote one Twitter user, referring to how a similar shoot by an Arab woman may be received very differently.

"Imagine an Arab woman athlete posing like this, with male white models draped across her shoulders.The fadee7a [Arabic for scandalous] patrols would be deafening and she’d be lucky to survive," said another, refrerring to the other social media users who trawl online feeds for potentially scandalous news, particularly about Arab women.

'Problematic' views

The Twitter debate also brought up the 27-year-old's defence earlier this year of a fellow Egyptian national team player, Amr Warda, who was accused of sexual harrassment by a number of women.

Warda was sidelined by the Egypt's Football Association in June after screenshots, lewd videos and testimonies surfaced on social media posted by those who say they were harrassed by him.

Much to the disappointment of some of his fans, Salah and other Egyptian footballers backed Warda, saying he deserved  “a second chance".

In his remarks about his Egypt team mate, Salah added that "women must be treated with the utmost respect. ‘No’ means ‘no’."

Deadly consequences

Salah, who has achieved international renown through his football career, has been lionised by fans as a paragon of humility, as well as an ambassador to the West for Arabs and Muslims.

But the debate that arose on social media has brought to the fore a more serious issue which many Arab women have tried to highlight.

Read more: 'No honour in murder': Honour killings are a problem and we know it

Taboos around gender-specific modesty in the Arab world have, even in recent times, had deadly consequences, with women often on the receiving end of so-called 'honour' violence.

In September, 21-year-old Palestinian Israa Ghrayeb died after being hospitalised in Bethlehem with severe injuries. Ghrayeb was allegedly beaten by furious male relatives for posting a video on social media with her soon-to-be fiancé.

Around the same time last year, Iraqi social media star Tara Fares was gunned down in Baghdad amid a spate of murders across Iraq targeting women.

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