You can judge a man by his character. But in the rising sinew of the Arab Spring, Egyptian men are judged by their noses.
If Arabs and Jews share anything, it is that they are often stereotyped as having large noses.
Some look great. Others are frightening. On men, they are viewed as "distinctive." On women, they are seen as a distraction and a distortion of impending beauty. That's why so many women get "nose jobs" or, in the lexicon of my many relatives who are doctors, "rhinoplasty," a medical term that traces its origins to the rhinoceros and its large "horn."
It creates much humor, jokes that Arab and Jewish children have to suffer through growing up in America and probably in other countries, too.
And it plays into the stereotype of being "cheap." In designing the face of man, did God give Arabs and Jews large noses because he couldn't understand our accents? Noses or hoses? Or because air is free?
It was funnier when we were all 6 years old. But as we get older, our facial proboscis can create some discomfort.
There are a lot of euphemisms for large noses: honkers.
Yet, having covered American and Middle East politics for more than 35 years, I have never heard of a politician losing his job because of his nose.
That apparently happened in Egypt last week, where democracy is about as ugly as some noses can get.
Anwar el-Balkimy was elected to Egypt's new parliament representing the Al-Nour Party, which is a very conservative group and a part of the ultra-religious right Salafi movement.
Seems that el-Balkimy showed up one day to a parliamentary meeting wearing bandages over his nose.
Apparently, in Egypt, getting a nose job is embarrassing for people. So rather than admit getting a nose job, which might reflect el-Balkimy's heightened "vanity," he told everyone he had been "viciously beaten by a masked gunman."
At least he didn't claim he was a martyr who stood up for human rights and freedom at Tahrir Square where democracy finally found a precarious foothold in Cairo just over a year ago, Jan. 25.
But el-Balkimy was clearly afraid to admit he had cosmetic surgery.
The predicament of el-Balkimy raises a curious new issue in Egypt, something that comes from Democracy and freedom. It's called "free speech."
Yes, in a true democracy — like in the United States, where communication is the foundation of democracy — the new Egypt experienced a nose-like growth in free speech through the appearance of many independent newspapers.
Normally, in dictatorships like Egypt, "free speech" will get your nose cut off along with a stiff prison sentence. The Arab media are still only allowed to report the good things about their dictators and "fearless leaders."
Even in the Arab Spring, Arab media can't criticize or report on the wrongdoing of their dictators. They can only hate Israel or criticize the dictators of rival Arab countries, as the Gulf State media are attacking Syria while Syria's media attack the Gulf Arabs.
The media in Egypt, though, are starting to experience freedom, much like the freedom practiced in the United States. Last year, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner tripped into a scandal when he lied to the media about a picture he had posted on Twitter. It involved sex, but I will leave it up to your imagination to speculate about the details. The media were relentless and eventually cost Weiner his job. He finally quit after admitting he lied like an Arab dictator.
The case of el-Balkimy is far from a sex scandal.
Egypt's media quickly reported the incident about el-Balkimy in their newspapers. And those news reports spread, Weiner-like, throughout Egypt's valleys and pyramids until the stories were read by the doctors who performed el-Balkimy's surgery.
The doctors clearly felt they did a good job on el-Balkimy's ugly nose, and they were rightly offended. They had carefully sculpted a beautiful proboscis for the Egyptian legislator, one I am sure they hoped would bring them new customers since big noses are common in Egypt and the Middle East.
They openly called el-Balkimy a liar, something that never would have happened a year ago.
Wow. Imagine that. In the Middle East, a leader who lies can get "called on the carpet" and held to be accountable. In the Middle East, a member of government is exposed not by violence or assassination, but rather by the published word of the now "free" news media.
Take my word that this is a sign of good things to come for Egypt. As a longtime journalist and writer, I have a nose for these things (sniffing out the truth).
Will this be the end of the story? Who "nose"?
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.