A group of ultra-conservative Salafis seeking to impose their own stringent version of Shari'a Law in Egypt took a royal drubbing in the town of Benha when they burst uninvited into a beauty salon.
According to the online Bikya Masr newspaper the women in the shop were ordered to stop what they were doing or "face physical punishment" from the group, meaning they would be caned by the men.
Instead, the women took matters into their own hands and, according to Bikya Masr, "beat and whipped the vigilante gang with their own canes before kicking them out to the street in front of an astonished crowd of onlookers.”
The surprise raid on the salon was part of a string of similar “inspection checks” on other retail businesses to check for compliance and that shop owners and customers abided with “God’s law.”
According to the report these included telling shop owners “they could no longer sell ‘indecent’ clothing, barbers could no longer shave men’s beards, and that all retail businesses should expect regular and surprise inspections to check for compliance."
Bikya Masr linked the sad sack would-be vigilantes to the newly-established group calling itself the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The group has implied they are a part of the Salafi al-Nour Party, which has made a strong second-place showing in Egypt's recent parliamentary elections.
But last week Al-Azhar, Egypt’s central mosque, announced its rejection to the formation of the so-called committee. And, the Al-Nour party has publically denied any connection with the self-appointed religious police, including financing them.
Nonetheless, the incident underscores the deep social tensions simmering under the surface of post-Mubarak Egypt where - despite a long-tradition of secular governance – Islamist parties have scored big wins in the polls.
The front-running Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour parties, both of which advocate the imposition of Shari'a Law, are expected to form the next government.
Observers say, however, that both parties are painfully aware they are inheriting a nation in a financial tailspin with billions in U.S. aid being predicated on a transition to a civilian government that upholds freedom of expression, religion, and human rights.
In the past eleven months of unrest, Egypt has burned through over half of its foreign currency reserves and lost a net $8.9 billion in assets and investment - putting incoming lawmakers in dire need of both economic solutions and social calm.
Harassing women in salons isn't likely to provide either. Not that Egypt's women will stand for it.