Viewpoints from Tanta

Written by Helene Aecherli on Sunday, 22 December 2013. Posted in Egypt

Based on conversations with Menna Elkhateeb

When the guys started to shave in Egypt

Somewhen last summer, shortly after President Morsi was gone, I noticed that men with beards started to shave. People were so vehemently against the Muslimbrotherhood and beards as what many believe to be symbols of an increasingly fundamentalist Islam, that men with more hair in the face than a nicely cut five-day-beard feared to be caught and arrested. 

This fear wasn’t just based on rumours or wild imaginations, not at all: Indeed, some friends of mine, just simple, ordinary guys, who aren't even deeply religious but just wore a beard because they wanted to be fashionable in a Bohemian-style way, had been grabbed by an angry mob, pushed against a wall and threatened to be thrown into prison. They were released after they had sworn not to belong to the Muslimbrotherhood - and then they went directly to a barber or to a shop to buy a bunch of razor blades.

Young sympathizers of the Muslimbrothers started to shave as well to avoid being harassed. They shaved to literally be undercover. 

What had happened? Why have barbers and the razor blade-industry all of a sudden become as busy as hardly ever before?

It's all a question of images and their reflection:

Whenever you see a young angry Muslim man, you see a young angry man with a beard. At least, that's the image you are confronted with in the media. These photogenic angry young Muslim men always have wide open mouths, as they scream and shout, their fists are raised and their faces are covered with black hair as the faces of the women and girls at their side are covered with a black veil. Thus, beards have become the worlwide image of religious fundamentalism and extremism for the global media-audience and now even more so for Egyptians themselves. Sure: A lot of the ultimate religious wear a beard as a sign of their belief (and like to present it to the cameralenses) and some of them distrust the ones, whose faces are plain.

However, this image can be misleading.

Taking a close look at my surroundings and zooming in into the recent developments in Egypt, I noticed that most of the Muslimbrothers don’t wear beards at all. Beards don't seem to be part of their uniform. They have smooth faces, nice suits and perfect manners. They don’t scream or raise their wrists, but speak elegantly. 

What worries me is, that people tend to categorize each other. Categorization is as easy as it is seductive. You don't have to think, don't have to ask questions, don't have to question your own conceptions or prejudice. You just put the other into a pre-cut scheme, that’s it.  To shave or not to shave, this shouldn't be the question. It's not a cime to wear a beard as it's not a crime to have a plain face.

But it could be dangerous to judge somebody purely from his appearance.



About Menna Elkhateeb

I met Menna Elkhateeb a couple of years ago at an innovation fair in front of the Mugamma,  Egypt's kafkaesque government office complex located on the South side of the Tahrir Square in Cairo. Together with some colleagues Menna presented a 3-D-computermodel of the human dental arches. A model, that was designed to improve the work of future dentists. This model caught my eye - Menna and I started to talk. And we became friends. Menna works on her Master's degree in computer science and lives in Tanta, a bustling town between Cairo and Alexandria, that is famous for its sweets and its grand mosque. Whenever I go to Egypt I travel to Tanta to visit Menna and to exchange thoughts and ideas. I love Menna's wit, her sharp mind and her outspokenness. I am happy, she is one of the explorers who venture to go beyond the veils. The texts on this site, eventhough recorded by me, reflect her viewpoints.

About the Author