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Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Debates about FGM in Egypt: 2007 to 2010

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This is a continuation of a previous essay.

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2007-JUN: Susanne Mubarak actively opposes FGM/C:

The BBC reported that:

"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

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2007-JUN: A girl died under the knife:

Budour Ahmed Shaker, aged 11 or 12 (sources differ), died in a private medical clinic in Minya province in Egypt. She allegedly died of an overdose of anesthetic during a FGM/C procedure. Her three sisters had already undergone the "purification" operation. The operation cost 50 Egyptian pounds (about $9.00 US). The doctor was 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. 1

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/C, 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 prohibited."

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/C. Although the Qur'an is silent on FGM/C, 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/C. 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/C prevents homosexuality.
  • That Islam requires FGM/C.

UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) 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 circumcision. 5

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."

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.

A law 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

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2007-SEP-10: The New York Times reported A ferocious debate in Egypt over FGM/C. 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

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2010-JUL-08: Suppression of FGM/C by the Egyptian government:

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 prevails." 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Magdi Abdelhadi, "Egypt forbids female circumcision," BBC, 2007-JUN-28, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  2. Ian Black, "Egypt bans female circumcision after death of 12-year-old girl," Guardian Unlimited, 2007-JUN-30, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  3. "Death of Girl During Circumcision Stirs Debate in Egypt and Prompts a Fatwa by Mufti of Egypt Banning this Practice," Transcript of program on Al-Mihwar TV, 2007-JUN-24, at: http://www.memritv.org/
  4. "Fresh progress toward the elimination of female genital mutilation and cutting in Egypt," UNICEF, 2007-JUL-02, at: http://www.unicef.org/
  5. "Egypt outlaws all female circumcision," AFP, 2007-JUN-28, at: http://www.france24.com/
  6. Maggie Michael," Egypt outlaws circumcision after girl dies," Guardian Unlimited, 2007-JUL-01, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  7. Michael Slackman, "Female circumcision focus of ferocious debate in Egypt," The New York Times, 2007-SEP-19, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  8. "Egypt: The problem of female circumcision," Land Center for Human Rights, 2010-JUL-08, Issue 489, at: http://www.pambazuka.org/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-JUN
Last update: 2014-APR-22

Author: B.A. Robinson
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