EGYPT: Genital Mutilation Persists in Egypt

An Egyptian decree authorising a complete ban on female circumcision has not led to the disappearance of the practice. Last week, 13-year-old Karima Rahim Massud from the Nile Delta village of Gharbiya died as the result of problems with the anasthaesia. Two months ago the same thing happened to a 12-year-old girl.

_21253_egypt-circumcision.jpgA black-veiled woman named Khadiya is standing with her ten-year-old daughter in the shade of a kiosk in the centre of Cairo. She says:

"Of course I'll have my daughter circumcised. If we don't Egypt will become a depraved society."

After Khadiya leaves, the female owner of the kiosk gives her opinion:

"It's a backward custom. My sister-in-law was going to have her two daughters circumcised two months ago, but I managed to get her to change her mind at the last moment. Those girls will thank me for the rest of their lives."

95 percent
Genital mutilation, commonly known as female circumcision, is a common practice in Egypt. The 2005 Demographic Health Survey concluded that 95 percent of women above the age of 14 had been circumcised. In Egypt, female circumcision usually means the incision or partial removal of the clitoris. In Egypt, there are few cases of "Pharaonic circumcision", or infibulation, which entails the removal of most of the labia majora and all of the labia minora and clitoris. The practice is, however, widespread in northern Sudan and Somalia.

The June decree which imposed a complete ban on female circumcision was the direct result of the death of the 12-year-old girl. Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the Egyptian president who has been campaigning against the practice for years, said the death was a public outrage. Egypt's Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, and the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Shenouda III, also expressed their indignation.

Partial ban
A previous ban from ten years before only allowed female circumcision for medical reasons. However, the old ban did not lead to a reduction in the practice but to girls being circumcised by doctors instead of barbers or midwives. Because of this female circumcision has become a considerable source of income for doctors. The operation costs an average of 100 Egyptian lira (15 euros). Physicians warn that the ban will again lead to girls being illegally circumcised, with dire consequences.

Although the authorities have been campaigning for years to discourage genital mutilation, the custom remains persistent. Both Muslims and Christians (who make up around ten percent of the population) have their daughters circumcised. They believe the operation is necessary because it suppresses sexual desires. Uncircumcised women are considered "easy" women who bring men into temptation and threaten the country's way of life.

Hannan Sulieman, who works for the Egyptian branch of the United Nations Childrens' Fund, Unicef, says genital mutilation has nothing to do with religious doctrine. The problem is that the practice has been appropriated by clerics. She says that fundamentalist mullahs and reactionary Christian village priests are the primary opponents of a ban on genital mutilation.

"Which is why convincing religious leaders is the key to success. It is easier with Coptic Christians, since everyone listens to the pope. But Islam does not have a central authority. We have to get thousands of sheikhs and imams to do the same as the grand mufti."

However, religious quibblers have already announced their opposition to the complete ban on female circumcision. Yusuf el-Qaradawi, oneof the former leaders of the popular Muslim Brotherhood, was quick to reject the ban. Yusuf el-Badri, a controversial TV preacher, also opposes the ban:

"Female circumcision is an Islamic duty. I know of nine examples in the written tradition in which the Prophet calls for it," he says, gesticulating at the hundreds of Islamic reference books which surround him in his study. "Those who want to ban the practice want to create an immoral society."

SOURCE: Radio Netherlands Worldwide

AUTHOR: Alexander Weissink

URL: Click here

DATE: 17/08/2007

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