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A reported blog about all things Middle East and North Africa.

Egypt: Policemen use Facebook to protest ban on beards

It might seem silly, but the Facebook debate over policemen's beards reveals a long-held suspicion of Islamists by Egypt's security forces.
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Supporters of the ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak demonstrate outside the police academy, as Mubarak's trial continues on February 16, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Carsten Koall/AFP/Getty Images)

Only in Egypt. Policemen disgruntled over interior ministry restrictions on beard-growing have reportedly started a Facebook page calling for more freedom for their facial hair. 

Some here in Egypt are worried the fresh calls for beards - which are grown to emulate Islam's Prophet Mohammed - are a sign the Islamists have been emboldened after securing a majority in parliament following President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. 

The new Facebook page, titled “I Am a Bearded Police Officer”, was created following the suspension yesterday of one Egyptian policeman who refused to shave.

The page creators say they are 18 policemen "forced by the Interior Ministry to shave every day," which they say is a “violation of the teachings of religion," according to Egypt Independent, a local English-language daily. 

A spokesman for the Salafi Al-Nour party, Nader Bakar, said reprimanding police officer's for going unshaven is against sharia law, and that the Prophet Mohamed and his companions led the world's best armies while bearded, Egypt Independent reported. 

The beard debate might seem silly, but it strikes at the heart of a decades-long controversy over Islamists and Egypt's security forces. 

Dating back to the time of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nassar, the formal Egyptian security apparatus has been highly suspicious or even downright hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, banning them as activists and jailing their leaders.

More from GlobalPost: In Egypt, the police force is up for grabs

Allowing the bearded faithful to swell the ranks of the police force probably seems like quite a concession. 

On Monday, the current minister of interior, Mohamed Ibrahim, said he did not feel the police force - widely hated and associated with Mubarak-era corruption - needed to be "purged" of its most tainted officers. 

GlobalPost reported today that "it may be those who end up at the helm of the vast security apparatus nurtured under Mubarak, but which largely withdrew from the streets following his ouster, who become the ultimate powerbrokers of post-revolution Egypt." 

In the meantime, here are some of the world's most famous beards.


Why are the lights out in Gaza? An explainer.

Much of Gaza is in the dark again this week. But who's to blame?
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Palestinian children sit at their home during a power cut at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City earlier this month. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

The lights are out again in Gaza, the tiny Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas. But with a partially lifted Israeli blockade and rival factions Hamas and Fatah (somewhat) on the mend, why is the territory's sole power plant still sputtering to a stop? 

There's no simple answer, and tracing the source of Gaza's constant electricity problems is often as difficult as mapping the conflict itself. For years the state of Gaza's power plant, built during the relatively optimistic years following the 1993 Oslo Accords, has been linked with the region's politics. 

This time, Hamas authorities and Gaza residents are blaming the outage - which kicked-in on Feb. 14 and affects everything from people's homes to hospitals and water pumps - on a shortage of black market fuel coming through the underground tunnels from Egypt.

Some reports say Egyptian security forces are clamping down on the movement of smuggled goods in the lawless Sinai region, but the source of the shortage is still unclear.

More from GlobalPost: Fears of humanitarian crisis as Gaza power plant runs out of fuel

Until Jan. 2011, Gaza's power plant ran on industrial-grade fuel imported from Israel, which under the blockade restricted the amount to run just one of the plant's three turbines. 

This, coupled with a dispute with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) over Gaza's reportedly unpaid electricity bills, prompted the energy authority in Gaza to modify the fuel coming from Egypt so that it could run the power plant without relying on the PA and Israel. (The PA is supposed to use European Union funds to purchase the Israeli fuel for Gaza, but says Gaza's Hamas-run government doesn't do its part to help foot the $13.3 million bill). 

The man who spearheaded the initiative, power plant manager Dirar Abu Sisi, is now in Israeli jail after having been allegedly kidnapped by Israeli security forces from a train in the Ukraine in 2011. 

Crippled by an Israeli air-strike in 2006, following the capture by Palestinian militants of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, much of the rest of the power plant remains in disrepair. Israel still limits the type of items that go into the Gaza Strip, including many construction materials, that it says can be used by militants to make weapons. 

On Monday, Egyptian officials met with Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, and reportedly agreed to help temper the crisis by providing more fuel, helping repair the plant, and hooking up the isolated territory to the regional power grid - in a move that would boost Egypt's influence in Gaza. 

Right now, Egypt supplies about 17 megawatts of electricity to Gaza at the cross-border town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israel supplies roughly 120 megawatts through feeder lines at Gaza's north, and the power plant provides another 70 megawatts to Gaza's 1.7 million people. 

It's being reported as a so-called "Gaza energy deal", brokered between Egyptian officials, the PA, and with the involvement of Hamas contacts. 

More from GlobalPost: Hamas said to reject Egyptian fuel offer as Gaza energy crisis deepens

But so far just 300,000 liters of diesel fuel have been transferred to Gaza from Egypt - and through the underground tunnels. The power plant needs 600,000 liters per day. 

“Egyptian officials said we should put an end to this problem and legalize the process and not leave it to the black market and smuggling,” Omar Kittaneh, the head of the Palestinian Energy Authority, told the Associated Press on Monday. “I think the atmosphere of reconciliation made this possible.”

But as the politicians stroke their egos, negotiate, and talk of grand development plans, tonight many Gazans will still be in the dark. 


In Egypt, reactions to the death of Middle East reporter Anthony Shadid

For years, Anthony Shadid called Cairo home. Egyptian activists and journalists react to his death on Twitter.
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A group of journalists, including Tyler Hicks (2nd from right) who was on assignment with Anthony Shadid when he died in Syria Thursday and carried his body out of the country, are pictured March 11, 2011 in Ras Lanuf, Libya, during a pause in the fighting. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (John Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

Like much of the rest of the world, Egypt awoke on Friday morning to the tragic news that long-time Middle East-based reporter, Anthony Shadid, had died while on assignment for the New York Times in Syria. 

Shadid, one of the world's most admired and respected journalists, covered a myriad of conflicts across the region for over a decade, but for years he called the Egyptian capital, Cairo, home. 

Read what was one of his latest dispatches from Cairo here.

Journalists, activists, artists and others reacted on Twitter to his untimely death from Egypt. 


Who will be Egypt's next president?

With elections three months away, the race for Egypt's presidency is still up for grabs.
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An Egyptian protester holds a chain as he shouts slogans against ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak outside the police academy in Cairo where his trial is drawing to an end on February 16, 2012. The verdict in the trial of Mubarak will be announced on February 22, presiding judge Ahmed Refaat said. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Who will have the lucky chance to follow in Mubarak's footsteps and be Egypt's next president? Or... not really. 

Under increasing pressure to handover power, Egypt's military junta has again moved up the country's presidential elections, this time to May. 

But with a posse of mostly uninspiring candidates, a clear frontrunner has yet to emerge. 


Congress: NGO chiefs testify on Egypt aid (VIDEO)

The heads of four NGOs under investigation in Egypt testify in front of Congress.
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President of the International Republican Institute Lorne Craner testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC last year. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The heads of the four US NGOs ensnared in a legal debacle over American aid in Egypt testified to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today, in a session that drew frank questions from representatives over the future of financial assistance to Egypt. 

In one lighter admission, the president of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Kenneth Wollack, said the infamous maps discovered in a raid on one of the offices, and that investigating judges said indicated the NGOs planned to divide Egypt, were actually maps printed and distributed by the Egyptian government's own High Elections Commission (HEC). 

Photographs of mosques and churches, which Egyptian government officials have hinted proves a plot to sew sectarian strife, were used by one organization in their religious tolerance portion of their civic education class. 

More than 40 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, were recently referred to a Cairo court for their work with politically-minded organizations one Egyptian official said had tried to "hijack" the Egyptian revolution.

Fayza Aboul Naga, the Mubarak-era Minister of International Cooperation, was named by the head of the International Republican Institute (IRI), Lorne Craner, as the "ringleader" of the NGO crackdown, but said the issue now goes much further than her and is calling into question the entire US-Egypt relationship.

Investigating judges said there will likely be criminal charges, and staffers could face prison time, Craner said.


Egypt: Christian expulsions a test for Islamist government

Muslim mobs torched the home of a local Coptic Christian man.
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Coptic Egyptians attend a service at the Abbassiya cathedral in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2011 to mourn those killed during recent clashes with security forces. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
Eight Coptic Christian families were evicted, and their properties put up for sale, following weeks of sectarian tension over rumors of a romantic affair between a Muslim man and a Christian woman.

John McCain: An unlikely Brotherhood ally (VIDEO)

Republican Senator John McCain takes on Fox News commentator Sean Hannity's characterization of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as "radical Islamists."
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Arizona Republican Senator John McCain visits Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square last year, after a popular uprising ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

I bet Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood never thought they'd find an ally in an aging Republican lawmaker (neither did I, really). 

But when on Feb. 13, Sean Hannity, the uber-conservative Fox News and radio personality, slammed the Brotherhood as radical Islamists that shouldn't receive a dollar of US taxpayer money on his nightly show, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain stepped up to the plate to set Hannity straight:

"First of all, Islamic extremists are not in power. The power is still being wielded by the military junta that took over, by the way who are, they and the last vestiges of the Mubarak regime, keeping Americans in a situation where they have to go to the US embassy. So, it’s not the Muslim Brotherhood who’s doing this, it’s the remains of the Mubarak regime." 


Did the US hijack Egypt's revolution? And other conspiracies

The woman behind Egypt's NGO crackdown says US tried to hijack the revolution.

Today it emerged that the woman leading the charge against foreign NGOs in Egypt, Fayza Aboul Naga, told prosecutors the US tried to hijack the country's revolution by creating chaos through the funding of political organizations. 

The comments, part of her Oct. 2011 testimony to judges investigating foreign-funded NGOs, were reported today by the state-run news agency, Middle East News Agency (MENA). 

"The United States and Israel could not directly create a state of chaos and work to maintain it in Egypt, so they used direct funding to organizations, especially American NGOs, as a means of implementing these goals," AFP, quoting MENA, reported her as saying. 

It's an increasingly familiar line pushed by former regime officials, alluded to by Egypt's ruling generals, and echoed by state-run media in the post-uprising period: that foreigners or foreign powers seek to thwart Egypt by fostering strife in the great nation.

Now the government has named civil society organizations as the vessels of that strife. 


Egypt: Arrest of foreign journalist highlights rise of xenophobia

One foreign journalist and an American student are reportedly being charged with incitement in the flashpoint Egyptian town of Mahalla.

For six hours yesterday, Aliya Alwi live-tweeted her interrogation and arrest by Egyptian police and later military in the Delta city of Mahalla.

She traveled there with an Australian journalist and an American student to cover a general strike in one of the country's most restive towns. According to her tweets, they are being transferred to a regional military intelligence office to be charged with "incitement." This is extremely troubling.


In Egypt, Islamists shut down TV production

Islamist students halt the production of a new television series on their campus -- because they don't like the female costumes.
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A woman wearing a full Islamic veil walks on front of Egyptian police and soldiers. Pro-Islamist students this week shut down a television production because the actresses were dressed indecently. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of Islamist students managed to halt the filming of a new television series at an Egyptian university after protesting over the "indecent" clothing worn by the actresses, AFP reports

The production company, Misr International Films, said it was forced to leave Cairo's Ain Shams University after students belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization whose political arm now holds the most seats in parliament, said they refused to allow the filming to move forward if the womens' costumes were not changed.