Egypt: What’s So Scandalous About a Nose Job?

Photograph by AP Photo

Blaise Pascal had this to say about Cleopatra’s nose: “Had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have changed.” The same cannot be said of a more contemporary Egyptian politician, Anwar al-Balkimy, a member of Parliament from the country’s ultraconservative al-Nour Party. The lawmaker’s once-prominent nose has become decidedly shorter, but all that’s changed is he’s been forced to resign. As for the face of the world, well, it can’t help but smile at the flood of nose puns that has washed over the Internet.

When American girls get a 16th-birthday nose job, the typical coverup is the old “deviated septum” excuse. To explain why his face was covered in bandages after his Feb. 28 operation, al-Balkimy resorted to an explanation that, in Egypt, is sadly more believable: He was jumped by gunmen, who also happened to steal the $16,000 he was allegedly carrying.

After initially coming to his defense, says Hani Sabra, Middle East analyst for the Eurasia Group, the Nour Party found out he was lying. “The brazenness of his lie was quite apparent,” says Sabra. “The operation was performed at a private hospital. There were many witnesses. You have to register.”

After the deception was discovered, al-Balkimy apologized and tendered his resignation. So the guy had a giant proboscis and decided to do something about it—why was this such a big deal? After all, no one’s asking for John Boehner’s fluorescent head in a basket just because he apparently sleeps in a tanning bed. And Joe Biden’s not fooling—or trying to fool—anyone with those hair plugs.

According to Sabra, there are three principal reasons al-Balkimy had to step down:

1) The suspicion that al-Balkimy used Nour Party money to pay for the procedure reflects poorly on Egypt’s fledgling democracy and its new Parliament. The party had no choice but to rub al-Balkimy’s nose in it. (I’m allowed one, no?)

“From what I’ve read in Egyptian media,” says Sabra, “he had party money with him and that’s how he paid for the operation. He said some of that money went missing when he was attacked.”

2) The fact that al-Balkimy said he’d been jumped by a band of (presumably surgically precise) gunmen was seen as taking advantage of the devastating rise in crime that has rocked Cairo since Mubarak’s ouster, and has even claimed some of its politicians.

“In the last couple weeks, other Egyptian politicians have indeed been a victim of assault,” says Sabra. “Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is a prominent presidential candidate and a former senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the victim of a carjacking two weeks ago.” The carjacking was not politically motivated, says Sabra, which only further highlights the extent of insecurity in Cairo.

3) While cosmetic procedures do not necessarily violate the letter of Islamic law, they do go against its spirit. That al-Balkimy was a member of the country’s most conservative party adds to the hypocrisy.

“The idea that you’re trying to change what God gave you … this is not repairing a faulty ventricle in someone’s heart,” says Sabra. “There’s not Islamic prohibition against something like that. But changing your appearance out of something like vanity is frowned upon.”

Throughout our exchange, I could hear Sabra strive to keep a straight face. “I’m trying to keep my professional hat on,” he says.

“I actually don’t think the impact on the Nour Party will be that big.”

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