Alexandria is beard city – it is the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party and the Al Nour party of the ultra-conservative Salafi. Beards have been sprouting on chins like weeds. There's the uncut version, the running-wild look, the trimmed bush and the beard that can't seem to make up its mind whether to come or go.
Posters and banners still festoon the city like decorations left in a room long after the party is over. The Islamist candidates continue to gaze at us with benign authority and reassuring smiles. Not all of them are bearded, but all of them have the middle of their foreheads marked by the zebeeba which means ‘dehydrated grape.’ The dark mark indicates the amount of times their foreheads have hit the floor praying.
The Islamist’s campaigning was slick, pumped with money and included free handouts in the name of charity. Their success in the first leg of Egypt's three-stage parliamentary vote has surprised and alarmed those Egyptians worried about what this might mean for freedoms and tolerance. The Muslim Brotherhood party and the Salafis are likely to emerge as a vocal bloc in the first legislature since Hosni Mubarak was deposed by the Egyptian people. The Salafis are predicted to come second to the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.
Many Muslim scholars do not believe beards are compulsory. Mohammed never stipulated facial hair was must for his followers in the Quran, although he himself is believed to have sported one – probably because he was so busy being a prophet he didn’t have time to shave.
Sayings of Mohammed reported after his death give the impression he was a militant beardist. ‘Trim the moustache closely but let the beard flow,’ he is reported to have said. One Muslim scholar states, ‘No one has called it permissible to trim it (the beard) less than fist-length as is being done by some westernized Muslims and hermaphrodites.' In a statement that could put barber’s out of business, he stated ‘It is forbidden for a man to shave another’s beard.
Beards themselves are not the issue. George Clooney looks great in one. The 25th January Revolution was led by young people most of whom wanted to see Egypt become a modern leading nation in the 21st century. Instead, a large group of bearded men (and a few covered women) will be a major influence, viewing the world from the 8th and 9th centuries.
When Salafist leader and Alexandrian parliament candidate, Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat recently described the literature of the late Egyptian Nobel prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz, as ‘inciting promiscuity, prostitution and atheism,’ he sent shivers through the artistic community.
In a television interview, El-Shahat (who looks like a gnome with a third eye) said, Mahfouz’s novels ‘are mostly set in areas involving brothels and drugs,' and that his acclaimed, Awlad Harretna (Children of our Alley), was a novel 'whose symbols promoted atheism.’
The beardless bartender at the Four Seasons Hotel says he voted for the Salafis and for the Muslim Brotherhood as they ‘will be fair and just.’
When I pointed out that he would be out of a job if the Salafis succeeded in banning all alcohol, he merely shrugged his shoulders.
‘I’ll find another job,” he said, apparently oblivious of Egypt’s high unemployment rate.
When asked if he knew what Al Nour would do for the economy, he shook his head. In conservative Egypt, moral rectitude is taking priority over economic sense.
I recently watched a television interview with a Salafist who clearly had his eye on the Ministry of Tourism. He said that all female tourists arriving in Egypt should be given a uniform on arrival which would cover them from head to toe. The Pharonic statues they had come to see, would also be covered. He also promised to increase the revenue coming into the country from tourism.
Mahfouz once said, ‘If you want to move people, you look for a point of sensitivity, and in Egypt nothing moves people as much as religion.’ He also said, ‘It is clearly more important to treat one’s fellow man well, than to be always praying and fasting and touching one’s head to a prayer mat.’