EGYPT: Egypt Fights Genital Mutilation

Her name was Budour Ahmad Shaker. She was 12 years old. She died last month while undergoing a clitoridectomy, or female circumcision, a procedure commonly practiced in Egypt as well a number of other north African and Middle Eastern nations.

Budour's case, which was performed at a private clinic some 250 kms (about 150 miles) outside of Cairo, was closely followed in the press, after the family accused the doctor of malpractice. 

It has stimulated extensive condemnation of female circumcision, genital mutilation: Southern villagers went out on protest marches, the religious establishment issued decrees banning the practice, even Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak began a campaign against the procedure.

At a recent Cairo conference for combating violence against children, she called Budour's death "the beginning of the end of female circumcision," adding that the practice was a blatant example of physical and psychological violence.

Female circumcision is un-Islamic

The religious institution, after sensing the growing anger caused by the case, decided to outlaw the practice. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, decreed female circumcision forbidden.

This is not the first time that the religious establishment has condemned the practice. The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar (the supreme council for Islamic affairs) Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, has been quoted in the past as saying "female circumcision is a non-Islamic tradition. Nothing in the Islamic law tells us to do it."

After Budour's death, about 3,000 people took to the streets in southern Egypt, where the practice is more widespread. The protestors held posters with pictures of Budour and other casualties of the practice, along with signs dubbing Budour a martyr, and calling for a ban on the practice. Among the protestors were clergymen and other public figures.

Most women support the practice

Despite laws and fatwas passed denouncing or forbidding the practice, the movement against female circumcision is not gained widespread public support.

Polls conducted by non-governmental organizations in Egypt showed that 80 percent of rural women and 73 percent of urban women supported the tradition. This is only a slight drop in the number of women who supported the procedure in the 1990s.

This time, however, the steps against the practice are more severe. Mrs. Mubarak was enlisted for the cause in less than 48 hours, as was the religious establishment.

The Egyptian health minister issued a decree that it was “prohibited for any doctors, nurses, or any other person to carry out any cut of, flattening or modification of any natural part of the female reproductive system, either in government hospitals, non-government hospitals or any other places.”

Mrs Mubarak has proposed more than just banning the practice. She has suggested that the procedure be punishable by five years imprisonment and a 200,000 Egyptian lira fine ($35,000) - an astronomical sum, especially for villagers.

Egypt not what you thought

Those who understand Egyptian history and culture claim that Budour's story suggests a new era is starting in Egypt. In 1994, Egypt hosted an international convention on children's welfare. Two days before the beginning of the conference, CNN aired a story on an Egyptian girl who had undergone genital mutilation, and Egypt found itself under attack.

That was the first time the Egyptian authorities were made to deal with the topic. The health minister at the time banned hospitals from performing the procedure, but the alternative was worse. The girls were sent to barbers, midwives and other non-professionals.

From fear of causing a rift in the religious establishment, the grand mufti at the time was reluctant to forbid the practice. He did say that the practice lay in the gray area of Islam. Without an official ban, nothing authoritative could be done about the practice.

Egypt is now closer than ever to outlawing genital mutilation entirely. The government might not go as far a complete ban, so as not to anger the Islamic Brotherhood, but the practice will no doubt lose popularity.

This affair demonstrates the social change taking place in Egypt, motivated by the media. The government is now dealing with a painful topic that could not be approached a decade ago.

SOURCE: Ynetnews

AUTHOR: Roee Nahmias

URL: Click here

DATE: 11/07/2007

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