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Monday, August 31, 2009

Egypt: Female circumcision crackdown

August 30, 2009
By Bikya Masr

CAIRO: Reports on Thursday said that the first doctor in Egypt was being charged under a new Egyptian law that forbids the controversial practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM. The man allegedly illegally circumcised a young girl last week and is being charged after a local hospital notified the authorities following the 11-year-old girl’s admittance into the hospital with heavy bleeding as a result of the procedure.

According to al-Arabiya news organization, the doctor performed the procedure at the girl’s Minya home – some 400 miles south of Cairo – for 150 Egyptian pounds ($27).

He said he performed the operation using a scalpel and the girl remains in critical condition.

In summer 2008, Egypt’s Parliament passed a law that ostensibly bans the controversial procedure. Not that it should have needed to legislate against FGM – it was already officially banned in the country during the mid-nineties – but with doctors continuing to perform the procedure on girls as young as five, Parliament felt it was necessary to intercede.

The new law stipulates a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($185) to 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900) and a prison term of anywhere between three months and two years if caught performing FGM.

However, Ahmed Gad al-Karim, 69, is not the first doctor to be charged with carrying out this procedure. While he may be the first under the revised government law, other doctors remain in prison due to the procedure.

In June 2007, 12-year-old Badour Shakour died as a result of a circumcision operation. The death sparked a battle within the country over the use of the controversial medical procedure. Her death galvanized women and children’s rights groups to action, where they pushed for more stringent penalties against those who carry out FGM.

Shakour’s cause of death was an overdose of anesthetic, but her memory was the cause of an awakening that reached to the upper echelons of government.

A 2005 report by UNICEF contended that 97 percent of single Egyptian women between 15 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM, although other estimates put the number at 70 percent.

Opposition to the bill was strong. Member of Parliament Mohamed Al Omda of a small opposition party, brought his three daughters to the floor of the People’s Assembly in protest of the ban last year. One of his daughters carried a sign that read: “No to any attempt to forbid what is divinely allowed. No to any attempt to allow what is divinely forbidden.” Two of his three daughters are circumcised.

Many conservative Muslims in the country maintain that the practice is condoned in Islam. The country’s Muslim Brotherhood has come under fire over many of their members’ denouncements of Parliament’s bill. The powerful Islamic group, and many Islamic scholars, argues that the ban is akin to “imposing Western ideals” on Egyptian society, which they maintain is based in Sharia.

“Religion does not prohibit or criminalize female circumcision,” prominent Islamic scholar Mustafa Al Shaka said to the local press shortly after the bill was passed.

Progressive Islamic scholar Gamal Al Banna – brother of late Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna – says there is simply no precedent in Islam for this kind of practice. He argues that it was imported into society as a means of forcing women into the background of everyday life.

“It didn’t exist in Islamic history and those who argue it is Islamic or part of the Sharia are wrong,” the 87-year-old argued. “Religion does not subscribe to this kind of treatment that can cause death and other horrible results. It is un-Islamic.”

Al Azhar, the Sunni Islamic world’s most notorious religious authority, agrees with the elder Al Banna. In 2007, the Council of Islamic Research issued a statement saying that FGM and cutting are “harmful, have no basis in core Islamic law and should not be practiced.”

But Egyptian society remains stratified into opposing camps over the issue, says the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood Sectretary General Moushira Khattab. She believes that although the ban will remain permanent that it will take time to educate the population over the long term effects of cutting a woman’s clitoris.

“Nobody is going to say no to something that has negative effects caused by the procedure and in time Egyptians will see this,” she begins, “so the punishments that are being handed out against those who conduct this practice is vitally necessary.”