Since January 25th, 2011 Cairo has undoubtedly seen a sharp increase in the amount of men that are sporting beards. This phenomenon can be explained by the new changes in the political environment that has been sparked by the revolution.
One may ask how beards and politics are connected. If that one does ask, then that one has obviously not been living in Egypt. It was no secret during the Mubarak era that the Security forces or Amn el Dawla would monitor mosques around the country and regularly detain visitors, who stereotypically grew beards. It was not always the case that they picked up the bearded ones, but it was one factor that ranked high on their profiling list.
After the disturbance in the power structure of the country, and with the growing emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its dominance in the political arena, many beards have come out of the closet…in full force.
From time to time I wonder if taxi drivers and shop salesman now grow beards and use it as a marketing tool to increase profitability and sales in their trade, or are they in fact supporters of the Islamist wave that is now grows unabated.
Regardless, the beards are ubiquitous. And it is not only the Muslim Brothers who fancied a Sunnah style beard. The Salafis, who also entered the political scene since the revolution, now proudly boasting representation in the (now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t) parliament, also grow them barbas.
There are also different types of beards around the country and this post is amount the variety of beards in Cairo. I will attempt to break it down for the khawaga man who usually (especially in western cities’ ariports) consider all beards to be the same.
Note: The stereotypical profiling and labeling of these groups by no means limits any individuals from breaking out of the norm. It is hair after all and it grows, sometimes way too fast, thus giving the illusion of belonging to a different group. Also note that head dress and other attire play a part in identification of which beard.
1. The Ikhwangy (MB) beard
This beard is usually a full beard, moustache included, shaved short and neatly kept. However from time to time it might grow up to a few centimeters.
2. The Salafi Beard
This beard is usually characterized by much longer hair, usually not groomed very well, strangly, and without a mustache (or very very short length mustache according to a particular Hadith). Even if it is not long, they are usually aiming for length, it’s probably a salafi-beard-in-progress.
3. Azhari Beard
Also kept quite short and neat, the Azhari beard, or beards grown by the sheikhs of the centuries old Al-Azhar mosque tend to be accompanied by the red or white emma head gear.
4. Coptic Priest Beard
Egypt’s largest minority, Christian Copts, compromise roughly 10 percent of the population. Although many of the religious do not grow beards, the clergy do. Again, the whole attire plays a part with this beard. Usually the head dress combo is a pretty good indication, along with the black robes.
5. Downtown Beard
This category is also a just a rough guide compromising several different sub-categories including but not limited to:
- Urban cool guy
The rough activist usually has no time to really groom himself, plus he is usually unconcerned with vanity and more focused on ridding the country from the counter-revolutionary forces. His beard may grow to a certain length, then trimmed after some time and that cycle will continue for years. But it is a statement and it sometimes gives him leeway in certain situations while running around Tahrir or other hot spots, especially if he is using a camera.
They may also sport some khanafess styles as well, namely, goatees, sideburns, and their hair is usually a bit longer signaling to the observer his non-religious nature.
6. Amn el Dawla
This group refrains from beards altogether as they have been the arch enemy of the Islamists for decades and choose to shave only to the mustache. Even though the mustache is widespread in the Arab world, these men tend to have a standard lame ass civilian attire that became all to known to Islamists and all Egyptians alike. It is the combo that gives them away. Please refer to www.piggipedia.com for a more comprehensive gallery.
But staying in the same ministry, controversy is everywhere these days regarding the Islamists in the police force who now want to grow beards as well. Read about it here.
The beard is no longer only a religious symbol but is now a sign of political affiliation. This is why police officers shouldn’t be allowed to grow it..
7. Bedouin Beard
The Bedouins of Egypt who have inhabited remote area of the country for many years are said to be the closest to what the Arab character represented for centuries and centuries. The urban Arab character still features many of the known older customs but has no doubt assimilated into this globalized culture.
Bedouins live all over Egypt and extend beyond the borders as well to all over the Middle East, but here they tend to be concentrated in the Western Desert, the Sinai peninsula, south near Aswan and Shalateen.
It is my experience having traveling all over Egypt to all the aforementioned locations, that the elders will grow the beards. Those who are younger could easily be spotted with a beard, but not always. All Bedouins will have some facial hair, usually at least a mustach
Here is 3am Ali the poet from the Ababda tribe in southeastern Egypt reciting poem to a Cairene young lady. Notice his older age and the beard, meanwhile the others who are younger do not.
Although the Bedouin could very well be politicized given the conditions they face by the central government (discrimination and conflict all over land ownership), the Bedouin’s beard does not necessarily represent any political or religious significance. It is more of a cultural practice.
8. Street Beards
Egypt is a poor country, with at least 40 million people living on the poverty line and this fact was one of the main elements in the lead up to the Jan 25th revolution.
As a result of the widespread poverty, many of these unfortunate characters have no choice but to live in the streets. Homeless and unemployed, they roam the streets and alleyways all over the country. They are treated as outcasts by much of the population, but like many interesting urban dweller centers, a few have stories and insights that are priceless. Without a residence, beards are expected because of minimal shaving. But those beards always are accompanied by a story. Listen and you may learn something.
8. Ancient Egyptian Beards
Obviously we don’t have these anymore. Although they were fake, I advocate growing them for real, they’re bad ass, so I’m throwing them in.