By Ikhwanul Kiram Mashuri
Before his inauguration as Egypt’s new prime minister on August 2, 2012, Hisham Qandil faced many critics. They were not the matters of his family background, education or track records. But, it was because of his full beard. Criticism against Qandil’s appointment as Prime Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt stated, he was chosen more of his beard.
“Lesson learned (from appointment of Qandil as Egypt’s new prime minister) is grow your beard.” said Ahmad Sarhan who were the core member of Mursi’s opponent campaign team, Ahmad Shafiq. “Only in Egypt having beard is better than winning a Nobel Prize”, add political observer Hamdi Ibrahim on Twitter.
So far there are four Egyptians who received Nobel Prizes. They are the late President Anwar Sadat (Nobel Peace prize), the late Najib Mahfudz (literature), Ahmad Zewail (chemistry) and Mohammad Elbaradei (Nobel Peace prize). Ahmad Zewail and Albaradei also well known as politicians. They were active on leading mass demonstration against Husni Mubarak’s regime. They were known as nationalists.
When Mursi won Egypt’s presidential election, many people expected him to be the prime minister. Furthermore, President Mursi who was the former chairman of Freedom and Justice Party, political wing of Muslim Brotherhood, previously stated he would choose nationalist and professional prime minister, without considering his party background.
But, apparently President Mursi who had full beard has chosen Qandil who also had full beard. Here then laid such critics, that Qandil was chosen as the prime minister merely because he had full beard. Qandil himself was an engineer in water management. Born in 1962, after he finished his study in Engineering Faculty of Cairo University, he finished his education in United States and earned Doctoral degree in North Carolina University in 1993.
Headed back to Egypt, he chose his career as a technocrat in irrigation. Has had occupied many positions in public sectors such as water management, engineering and finance. Among them were senior manager in African Development Bank and then leading Egyptian Nile Irrigation Sector. On July 2011, Qandil was appointed as Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation by PM Kamal Ganzouri. It was then he stole public attention because he was the first minister and the only one who bearded in modern Egypt history.
Qandil’s beard then became a controversy when he was appointed as the prime minister. Pro and cons on this beard matter because Egyptian people, post revolution has been polarized into two major groups. First, Muslim Brotherhood with its political wing Freedom and Justice Party and Salafy Group with its party An Noor called as Islamic groups.
Second, outside group whom being called as nationalist liberal. Some observers often cynically called Islamic groups as “bearded groups”. Therefore, although the prime minister often said he was a true technocrats and not politician, still was his beard considered more than just accessories, it was an ideology.
In the middle of pro and cons about prime minister’s beard, of course there were people who took neutral side. This one saw Qandil – who became the youngest prime minister in Egyptian history –as a professional. According to them, this beard thing is unimportant. Hair grew under the chin could be shaved or kept, it was up to the person. The most important thing was whether the chosen one could bring Egypt to a democratic, developed, and prosperous country.
Here in Indonesia, beard matter also has become a hot topic amongst society. When a friend grew his beard, another friend teased him saying, “This is just an accessory. Unlike Ustadz fulan who has idealistic beard...”
For me, relating one’s religion with beard really simplified the issue. Does a person who have beard is better in his Islam or vice versa? Did Turkish Prime Minister and President Recep tayyib Erdogan and Abdullah Gul who disown beard become less Islamic, while they have Islamized the secular Turkey? On the other hand, many non-muslim European grew their beard nowadays. Even the Jew rabbis have long grown their beard. To teenagers, beard merely a life style. One could grow his beard or one could shave his beard, simply up to them.
I chose to be beardless, although every day I have to shave my hair under the chin and cheek. My wife said, I looked more handsome and clean when I was beard-less and moustache-less.