This week in Egypt, 17 police officers were demoted to ‘non-policing activities’ for growing a beard. Yes…it seems that it has come to this, folks.
But before we laugh off this incident, let’s consider the serious implications of such a decision and the impact of any subsequent appeal.
While it may seem like an obvious (and ridiculous) human rights violation on its surface, there is much more lying beneath the surface. Another violation here is the violation of freedom of religion. However, some might argue that there is no such freedom granted in practice in Egypt (constitutional arguments are aplenty, but nobody knows what the constitution even looks like these days). The other side of this demotion is trying to keep a secular look to a police force in charge of keeping the peace between a growing tide of Islamism and a liberal sector of society (which may or may not include Egypt’s Coptic Christians). This tension warrants at least efforts to keep a tidy look on the surface.
So the question becomes: is this the right way of approaching it? Reprimanding officers for growing such beards will not necessarily stop the growth of this movement (pardon the pun), and may even cause dissent among ranks of the police force.
I believe there are several options available to address this issue adequately. It starts with a sort of ‘cultural sensitivity’ training that accompanies the physical training that these officers go through. Furthermore, there needs to be a certain level of exposure to Egypt’s religions and the different nuances of their own religion. Perhaps these 17 officers don’t understand that growing a beard is not an integral part of their religion, or maybe they don’t understand the effects of having such a beard as a figure of authority. One thing is for sure: there needs to be more education on the subject. There needs to be more awareness about the effects, the consequences, and the realities of the situation to help people determine how to best behave in their respective jobs.
Of course, this goes without saying for all people who work in public sector jobs. While it’s absolutely important to celebrate the diversity of Egyptian society, there needs to be more consideration for the effects of our decisions. Yes…this even comes down to what kind of whiskers we go to work with today.