Heroine of Arab Spring arrested in New York

Attempts to deface pro-Israel poster stopped

The prominent US-Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy has been arrested in New York for defacing a subway poster that labels Muslims who oppose Israeli policies as "savage".

Ms Eltahawy, who has become a prominent commentator since she was viciously beaten by pro-Mubarak thugs during the protests that toppled the Egyptian dictator last year, sprayed pink paint over the billboard until she was led away in handcuffs by police.

Her protest was captured on film by a local news crew. Ms Eltahawy can be seen vandalising a poster which reads: "In any war between the civilised man and the savage, support the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." Local blogger Pamela Hall, who writes regular anti-Muslim posts on a number of sites, attempts to stop Ms Eltahawy in an exchange which gets both increasingly fractious and comical.

The posters have been criticised as inflammatory because they appear to suggest that any opposition to Israel is somehow both militant and savage. They were paid for by the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI), a right-wing lobby group which gained notoriety last year when it spearheaded the campaign against plans to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan. It is known for its support of Israel.

Even before Ms Eltahawy's protest, the advertising campaign had caused controversy. Unlike in Britain, where the rules governing political adverts are significantly tighter, New York generally allows protest posters if the backers have the money to pay for it.

When the AFDI came to them with the new campaign, it was initially rejected by the Metropolitan Transit Authority – which runs the New York subway – on the grounds that the posters violated the agency's policy against demeaning language. But in July a federal judge ruled that the campaign was protected by America's free-speech laws and ordered the MTA to put them up.

This week at least 10 of the posters appeared in subway stations across New York. They come at a time of increasing tension in one of America's most mixed-race metropolises.

In the video of the incident recorded by the New York Post, Ms Eltahawy can be seen spraying the poster in pink paint until she is interrupted by Ms Hall, who is armed with a camera on a tripod. Ms Hall says: "Mona, do you think you have the right to do this?"

Ms Eltahawy responds: "I do actually. I think this is freedom of expression, just as this is freedom of expression." There ensues a cat-and- mouse game with Ms Hall trying to block the spray.

Eventually two police officers arrive and arrest Ms Eltahawy. She was later charged with the offence of criminal mischief and appeared in court yesterday. For a first offence, criminal mischief usually only carries a fine.

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