"Egypt's first lady, Susanne Mubarak, has spoken out strongly against
female circumcision, saying that it is a flagrant example of continued
physical and psychological violence against children which must stop." 1
A girl died under the knife:
Budour Ahmed Shaker, aged 11 or 12 (sources differ), died during 2007-JUN at a private
medical clinic in Minya province in Egypt. She allegedly died of an overdose of anesthetic during a FGM procedure. Her three sisters had already undergone
the "purification" operation. The operation cost 50 Egyptian pounds
($9.00 US). The doctor is reported as having tried to bribe the parents to
withdraw their complaint. The girl's father has allegedly sued the doctor. 2
There are a few such deaths yearly in the country, but this tragedy seems to have triggered a major reaction in Egypt.
Human rights groups complained both to the medical profession and the
government about the continued practice. The doctor has since been arrested.
Reactions of religious & political leaders to Budour's death:
When interviewed about FGM, Ali Gum'a, the Mufti of
Egypt (a.k.a. Gomaa) -- a senior Muslim jurist, said:
"We've warned time and again that this thing... It has become clear to
us, in modern times, with all the medical information we have, that this is
inappropriate, and that it causes severe damage from the medical, social,
and human aspects. So we [decided] to refrain from performing this custom
and to prevent it. We've said this once, twice, three times, and ten
times... Not only now, but since 1954, we have been calling upon people to
abandon this ugly custom." 3
When the interviewer pressured the mufti by asking specifically whether Islam
prohibits or permits FGM, Ali Gum'a replied:
"This issue, with these characteristics, in our times – is prohibited. If
they want to know what the Mufti of Egypt has to say. I say this custom is
Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Cairo's al-Azhar mosque, has
repeated his assertion that the practice as un-Islamic. However, some other
Muslim clerics have supported
FGM. Although the Qur'an is silent on FGM, there are references in the Hadith -- events in the life of Muhammad -- that refer to the procedure. There is also a series of widespread beliefs among the public about the necessity of FGM. Some are:
That it prevents women from engaging in adultery.
That a woman who is physically intact will have great difficulty in finding a husband.
That FGM prevents homosexuality.
That Islam requires FGM.
UNICEF reports that:
"... Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, the highest religious
authority in Egypt, issued a statement saying FGM/C has no basis in core
Islamic law or any of its partial provisions and that it is harmful and
should not be practiced." 4
Coptic Pope Shenouda, the leader of Egypt's minority Christian community,
said that neither the Koran nor the Bible demands or mentions female
Su'ad Saleh of Al-Azhar University commented:
"After the [statement by the Mufti] there is nothing left for me to say.
This is what I have been demanding from the Mufti and the religious scholars
– a categorical ruling on such issues. But when some of them say that this
is permitted 'when necessary,' and if a doctor performs it ... It was a
doctor who did this, and look at the result ... Society as a whole is
responsible for the death of this girl. This is tantamount to the custom of
burying girls alive, before the advent of Islam. It is like the burying the
girl in the physical and psychological sense."
Further reactions to Budour's death:
According to the"France 24" news service"
"The Egyptian doctors' syndicate has launched a probe into the girl's
death and warned doctors against performing the procedure either in homes or
medical facilities, citing 'detrimental health effects' on girls." 5
On 2007-JUN-28, the Egyptian Health Ministry
announced that it has removed the health exception from the 1996 law.
3 Female genital mutilation has since been banned
throughout the country. A spokesperson said that any circumcision:
"... will be viewed as a violation of the law and all contraventions will be
punished." He noted that it is a "permanent ban".
The ministry decree states that it is "... 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." 6 That is confusing regulation. It
could be interpreted as forbidding various non-mutilating medical procedures,
tubal ligation, surgical removal of a hymen, and even performing an episiotomy
during childbirth. Also, since the clitoris is not normally considered part of the reproductive
system, some might consider the regulation as not restrict clitoral surgery.
is apparently required to fully enforce the ban. It was expected to face a tough
debate in parliament. 5
UNICEF reports that:
"During the Third Regional Conference on Violence against Children, the
First Lady Suzanne Mubarak dedicated a minute of silence for the recent
child FGM/C victim. She announced the launch of a national campaign aimed at
drawing more attention to the harmful practice and accelerating efforts to
legally ban FGM/C. The First Lady also announced the amendment of the Child
Law 1996, which in addition to banning FGM/C also addresses other child
rights issues." 4
2007-SEP-10: The New York Times reported A ferociious debate in Egypt over FGM. They said:
"Though the practice is common and increasingly contentious throughout sub-Saharan Africa, among Arab states the only other place where this practice is custom is in southern Yemen, experts here said. In Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is viewed as abhorrent, a reflection of pre-Islamic traditions."
"But now, quite suddenly, forces opposing genital cutting in Egypt are pressing back as never before. More than a century after the first efforts to curb this custom, the movement has broken through one of the main barriers to change: It is no longer considered a taboo to discuss it in public. That shift seems to have coincided with a small but growing acceptance of talking about human sexuality on television and radio."
"For the first time, advocates against genital cutting said, television news shows and newspapers have aggressively reported details of botched operations. This summer two young girls died, and it was front-page news in Al Masry al Yom, an independent and popular daily. Activists highlighted the deaths with public demonstrations, which generated even more coverage." 7
2010-JUL-08: According to the Pambazuka News:
"The [Egyptian] government started recently combating this phenomena under increasing international pressure, where it is considered as a serious violation of women rights. Talking about Female circumcision within the Egyptian society is - by no means - an easy task, where it is considered as a taboo for several reasons. This tradition is said to have started in ancient Egypt and in some parts of Africa and is still widely practiced in some of the poorest African countries, where illiteracy is prevails." 8
2011-FEB-25: Hank Pellissier of Ethical Technology writing at the time of the Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak dictatorship, compared male circumcision with FGM, and gave an assessment of the status of women in Egypt. He wrote:
"... female genital mutilation is not circumcision — it’s a far more dangerous and debilitating attack on the flesh. Abolishing FGM unfortunately was not an agenda item that any Egyptian revolutionary spokesperson mentioned, and it was generally ignored as a subject of discussion by international media until CBS reporter Lara Logan was assaulted in Tahrir Square on February 11 by a mob of up to 200 men.
The Sunday Times reported that 'sensitive parts of her body were covered with red marks… from aggressive pinching.' She was also 'stripped, punched and slapped.' Suddenly, misogynist horror in the land of the Pharaohs was in the spotlight, and why not? The attack on Logan, who was rescued by Egyptian women and policemen after 20 to 30 minutes of abuse, serves as a potent reminder that even with Mubarak gone, it’s often a nasty men’s world in the Nile nation.
'Rampant sexual harassment, public fondling and groping of women… is used as a way to keep women indoors,' writes Asra Nomani in the Huffington Post. A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights says 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign visiting females experience sexual harassment, and the Arab Human Development Report (2009) claims 35% of all Egyptian women have been physically attacked, a figure they suggest is grossly under-reported. The 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, a Swiss study that rates progress towards women’s equality, places Egypt in the international cellar: #125 out of 134 nations surveyed. Egypt’s rank is abysmal because it excludes women from good jobs, especially managerial positions, and only 2% of parliament is female.
Abuse of Egyptian females often occurs early in life, with female genital mutilation. Although it was banned in 2007 by the Ministry of Health following the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker—who overdosed on anesthesia in an illegal clinic—its prevalence has only dropped from 97% to 91% in recent years, according to Nfissatou Diop, program coordinator of a joint project by UNICEF and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund).
The Grand Mufti of Egypt has said FGM is 'prohibited,' the Al-Aabar Supreme Council of Islamic Research says it shouldn’t be practiced because it has no basis in Islamic law, and even the former first lady—Suzanne Mubarak—denounced it as 'a flagrant example of continued physical and psychological violence.'
So…why does this barbarity persist?" 9
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.