On Wednesday, September 5, the request some police officers lodged to be allowed to grow a beard, was rejected. One of the main arguments for these police officers is that since President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt wears such a beard, they too should be allowed to follow the Islamic Sunna and Prophet Mohammed's way of living as closely as possible. This ambiguity around who in public office is allowed to show their religious orientations is not a priority at present in Egyptian public discourse. Of more concern for many is the "Islamacization" of Egypt, or what some like to call the fear of "Brotherhoodization". They fear the influence of Islamic groups over the rule of law and the public space in Egypt.
This is a concern, and a reason for vigilance, but what is more important is the role public policing is playing in Egypt nowadays.
Even before the January 25 Revolution, the relationship between the police and the Egyptian population could have been described as rather violent, and based on mistrust. With the clashes between the police force and the protestors during the first couple of days of the uprising, this was greatly intensified; so much so that the police ‘feared’ resuming their posts after the fall of Mubarak, there were so many cases of civilians hitting police on the streets, spitting at them, and in some cases even killing them in acts of rage.
After the revolution various campaigns were started to try and ‘rebuild’ trust between the population and the police. The main idea was to get the police force onto the streets to protect civilians. Yet over the years, minorities, protestors, and many poor people had to endure police harassment at so many different levels of verbal, physical, or emotional violence – it is the last thing in their minds for most people to consider calling the police when crimes take place, whether we are talking about stealing or sexual harassment. Changing this relationship will require much research, many policy suggestions, and much more open discussion in the public sphere.
The first challenge is how the police are represented on the streets. They must appear altogether more humane. A ‘bearded’ police force defending the rule of law may easily have the opposite effect, frightening the population off. So the court has rejected the appeal, yet this is a debate to which we will have to return if we are to arrive at a better and more efficient system.