AN Egyptian model was arrested on Monday over a photo session in Saqqara, a prominent archaeological site in the city of Giza. Salma El-Shimy, 26, posed for a collection of photos in a dress modeled on ancient Egyptian clothing. The outfit was deemed “inappropriate” by officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, referred the incident to public prosecutors for investigation, the ministry confirmed in a statement. It quoted Waziri as warning that, “anyone who shows negligence when it comes to antiquities or our unique Egyptian civilization will be punished.”
Two of the ministry’s employees and four security personnel who work at the location were also referred to prosecutors for administrative investigation, Sabry Farag, director of the Saqqara antiquities site, told CBS News. Farag denied reports that those six individuals were also arrested.
Anyone who wants to carry out a photo or video shoot for commercial purposes at one of Egypt’s archaeological sites must obtain a permit from the ministry.
El-Shimy’s photographer, 22-year-old Hossam Muhammed, told a local newspaper that he and his subject reached an “agreement” with staff at the site to shoot photos around the Pyramid of Djoser for about 15 minutes. The pyramid dates to the 27th century BC.
Muhammed was also arrested later Monday evening.
El-Shimy referred to herself as Queen “Malban-titi” for the photo shoot, a name combing references to the sweet treat Turkish delight, “Malban,” and ancient Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti.
The photos went viral and revived a heated debate about the difference between breaking social norms and breaking the law.
One lawyer filed suit, accusing El-Shimy of “the distortion of civilization and insulting the great Pharaonic history.” A member of Egypt’s parliament called for El-Shimy to face the “severest punishments.”
Under Egypt’s justice system any individual can file a lawsuit against anyone for any reason, but it’s up to the public prosecutor to decide whether there’s a valid case and then bring formal charges.
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Hyperbole aside, the public prosecutor ordered the release of both El-Shimy and her photographer on Tuesday evening on bail of 500LE each (about $32), pending a full investigation. They are facing formal charges of photography without a permit, according to local news outlets, but no charges related to indecency or anything else stemming from the claims of impropriety.
Mohamed told local press he was surprised by the huge reaction, insisted he did nothing wrong and was just trying to earn a living. He said he was paid 1000LE (about $65) for the shoot, and if he had known it would turn into such a scandal, he would have declined the job.
He also said he believed that if the model involved had a different body type, none of this would have happened.
Despite the outrage from some corners, other Egyptians rallied to defend El-Shimy’s right to wear whatever she wants and criticized the tourism ministry’s actions, suggesting the prosecution would only bring bad publicity for Egypt.
Just two weeks ago Saqqara was in the news for the landmark archaeological discovery of about 100 sealed coffins containing mummified bodies.