A court in Egypt ruled Wednesday that policeman may grow beards, ending the long-standing precedent of ex-President Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] barring facial hair because it was considered to be a public display of Islamic support. Writing for Cairo's High Administrative Court, Judge Maher Abu el-Enin rejected a request [Reuters report] from the Ministry of Interior [official website] to permit it to suspend police officers who violated the unwritten rule established by the country's former ruler. During his reign and up through the Egyptian Revolution [JURIST backgrounder], Mubarak used police and other government officials to punish Islamist groups he considered to be enemies of the state, and also prevented bearded Egyptians from holding senior positions in government. Because the Prophet Mohammad was known to have a beard, facial hair is considered to be both a cultural and political symbol [BBC op-ed] throughout much of the Arab world.
The United States has recently dealt with its own legal issues regarding facial hair. In April 2011, a judge in Virginia ruled that the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) [official website] did not violate the rights of a Muslim inmate when corrections officials barred him from growing a beard [JURIST report]. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] previously upheld [opinion, PDF] VDOC's grooming policy prohibiting the growing of beards and stressed that "due deference" should be given to the judgments of prison officials. In March 2011, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] sued [JURIST report] the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] for ordering a Sikh inmate to trim his beard in violation of his religious beliefs.