Egypt: controversy over genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation—or “circumcision,” as its apologists call it—has been banned even in Eritrea, as it faces US accusations of harboring Islamist terrorists. We recently noted the irony that the US has launched criminal prosecutions over the practice, even as it deports immigrant women who have fled it back to their native countries. Prestigious Islamic clerics have condemned the practice as a barbaric cultural tradition that is not sanctioned by Islam. Yet its apparent tenacity even in Egypt, among the most modernized countries in the Islamic world, is astonishing and frightening. From the Malta Star, Sept. 21:

Egypt is gripped in a hot debate after the government closed down a town’s doctor office after a 13 year old girl died during a genital circumcision, also referred to as genital mutilation, banning the procedure in the process.

Protests across conservative Egypt were present throughout the country after the government stepped in to control the dangerous old tradition.

“They will not stop us,” shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. “We support circumcision!” he shouted over and over, The New York Times reported.

“Even if the state doesn’t like it, we will circumcise the girls,” shouted Fahmy Ezzeddin Shaweesh, an elder in the village.

Religious leaders, activists and a solid number of students are in favour of a ban on this old tradition, however some Egyptians are opposing, even violently, the closure of the controversial clinic.

Following the death case in the clinic, the Egyptian health minister also issued a decree banning health care workers, or anyone, from conducting the procedure for any reason.

Religious leaders have also issued a booklet explaining in detail why the procedure goes against Islamic following, but some Egyptians don’t want to hear it.

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 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, The New York Times reported.

For the first time, opponents 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.

It is unclear if Egypt’s government will continue to push forward more liberal ideas in the highly-conservative country, but a new generation of young people are pushing for changes, and the country might see more changes to old, and pointless, traditions in the near future.

See our last posts on Egypt and the struggle within Islam.