An Egyptian court ruled on Wednesday that policemen may grow beards, ending a decades-old convention barring them from making what is often seen here as a display of Islamic piety.

Dozens of police officers were suspended from work in February for breaking the de facto ban on beards introduced under deposed President Hosni Mubarak. They had protested outside the Interior Ministry, calling on Islamist President
Mohammed Morsi - who is bearded himself - to secure their reinstatement.

Cairo's High Administrative Court rejected a request by the Interior Ministry to let it suspend officers who defied the unwritten rule. "The court ruled ... that police officers have the right to grow beards," judge Maher Abu el-Enin said.

Mubarak used the police to crush Islamist groups he saw as enemies of the state. During his rule, sporting any kind of beard precluded Egyptians from holding senior government posts. 

Wednesday's decision backed a similar ruling by a lower court and the decision makes the verdict final. The Interior Ministry's spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Men across Egyptian society wear beards, including many leftists, but the pressure for ending the police ban came from religious officers who wish to emulate the Prophet Mohammed.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, the state's most organised Islamist movement, has come to power through elections since the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011. 

The ruling is expected to raise worries among minority Christians, liberal-minded Muslims and others who fear that emboldened Islamists will try to force their beliefs and customs on society. 

Morsi said during his campaign for the presidency that he had no objection to members of the security forces growing beards.