[Photos and text by Mohamed Ali eddin.]
During the 25 January 2011 revolution, Egyptians thought they were united against President Mubarak’s regime. They believed in the power of Tahrir Square, in how the square gathered Islamists, liberals, and leftists together against injustice and dictatorship. People dared to imagine that they would achieve freedom, better economic conditions, and justice. Instead, two years later, after the Islamists under President Morsi unilaterally pushed through a new constitution in December 2012, bloody clashes erupted between Islamists and liberals across the country. Protests escalated as millions demonstrated countrywide and called for Morsi to step down. In July the military ousted Morsi, suspended the constitution, and imposed an interim government under Adly Mansour, who immediately dissolved the Islamist-led legislative assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood movement was outlawed and remains banned. In July 2013 supporters of former President Morsi began a sit-in at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo. On 14 August security forces dispersed the protest camp, killing over six hundred people.
During this period both sides committed atrocities. Victims were frequently attacked because of their appearance. Bearded men were singled out under the assumption that a beard signifies a devout Muslim. Ironically, some leftist activists and Christians were beaten up for the same reason. Appearances became an excuse for insults, beatings, or even murder. As a result, some Islamists, and others, shaved off their beards.
With my series of photographs I want to draw people’s attention to this phenomenon of judging people according to their appearance. These are a few of the stories of the variety of men who felt forced by social pressure to remove their beards.
[This photo story was originally created as part of the World Press Photo’s project Reporting Change.]
1- Abdul Rahman, twenty-five, is a researcher and heavy-metal fan who decided to shave off his beard after facing problems while taking part in protests against former Egyptian President Morsi. Fellow protestors accused him of being an Islamist. He says: “I used to wear my beard as I liked, but recently I found people judging me because of it.” Rahman considers himself an open-minded person who can, for example, meet women friends at home to listen to and record music.
2- Ahmed Samir, thirty-three, a businessman, became a Salafi and has had a beard since 2001. After the dispersing of pro-Morsi protesters from around the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque, Samir decided to shave off his beard since he had heard of friends being harassed in the streets. He feared similar harassment, even though he was a member of an open-minded Salafi group, which, after the revolution, aimed to decrease the gap between Salafis, liberals, and leftists. Samir used to frequently take part in protests against former President Morsi on Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace.
3- Alaa Zaghlol, thirty-five, is an activist who took part in many political events and protests against the Mubarak regime. Under the old regime Zaghlol was often picked out by state police because of his beard, but refused to shave it off. These days he visits families of the victims of recent unrest to offer them his solidarity. When one of these families didn’t want to talk to him, because they thought he was an Islamist, he decided to remove his beard to avoid such situations in future, and as a sign of respect to the families.
4- Mohamed Badr, thirty-two, is the imam of a mosque and a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. A close friend was killed during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in. When Badr decided to visit the body to say his goodbyes he was harassed and threatened by thugs at local checkpoints along the way. He says: “I visited the morgue to see my friend for the last time, then I went to the nearest barber to shave off my beard.”
5- Hosam Fathi, twenty-three, is a student who used to wear a beard as a lifestyle choice, rather than for religious reasons. Fathi found that his beard caused problems for him one day when he encountered a pro-Morsi protest in the street. Anti-Morsi activists nearby thought he was part of the protest, insulted him, and beat him up.
6- Mohamed Galal, twenty-six, is a dentist and a Salafi activist. He took part in the July/August 2013 sit-in at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, protesting the ousting of President Morsi. He spent some forty days there during which time state security police searched his family home in Mansoura, north of the capital. After security forces dispersed the sit-in, Galal returned to Mansoura but felt he should shave off his beard to avoid harassment along the way.
7- Reda Mahmoud, thirty-four, a teacher and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, took part in the sit-in at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque, where he was shot in the back. His family advised him to shave off his beard so that he could pass more easily through police checkpoints while they were taking him back from the hospital in the capital to his hometown in Kafr el-Sheikh, north of Cairo.
8- Waled Abdul Nasser, forty, is an imam, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He wore a beard immediately after the revolution, but decided to shave it off during his escape from bloody clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood offices in Alexandria. Nasser hid in a small shop, where the owner asked him to shave in order to be able to leave the area unscathed. He said: “I remember tears covering my face as they shaved off my beard.”