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Salama Abdellatif

Female genital mutilation in Egypt

The tragedy of Suhair al-Bateh reopens the question of female circumcision

A lecture on female genital mutilation is attended by Christian and Muslim women in a village nearby Beni Sueif, Egypt back in 2007.

Suhair al-Bateh is a young girl who grew up in Menshiyat al-Ekhwa, an Egyptian village in the province of Daqhaliyya on the Nile’s Delta. This village is no different from thousands of others in Egypt, as it is characterized by a significant dearth of services and development, and the utter prevalence of dire poverty and ignorance. 

 

Suhair grew up in a modest family headed by parents of limited education. Like thousands of families in rural Egypt, hers believed that the preservation of a girl’s honor starts by depriving their daughters of womanhood through circumcision. This procedure uses primitive tools and lasts for mere minutes; following which, they believe a girl would be immune to “the allures of sex.”

 

Suhair died before reaching the age of thirteen due to her exposure to this barbaric custom. 

 

Egypt has a relatively longstanding tradition of performing circumcision on young girls, as their parents believe this surgical procedure is likely to help them “preserve their honor” by reducing sexual arousal. The truth is, however, that those who perform such operations (especially in villages) are non-professionals who mutilate the girl’s genitalia by performing a partial ablation of the clitoris, thus causing women to incur all sorts of psychological and health traumas, according to the World Health Organization.

 

Prior to the revolution, Egypt fought against and criminalized female circumcision and took punitive measures against doctors who performed them, thus helping to curb the phenomenon. However, no sooner had Islamists come to power than they started promoting “the virtues of circumcision” in preserving society’s values and traditions. Their discourse found willing ears among the inhabitants of rural areas who had almost relinquished the practice.

 

One Salafist sheikh went as far as to file a lawsuit to abrogate Article 212 of the Penal Code and an earlier decision by the health minister in 2007, both of which banned female circumcision procedures. The sheikh argued that both the article and the decision violate “the provisions of the Islamic sharia and established traditions and customs.” However, the Higher Constitutional Court stood against these claims and decided months ago to validate the questioned texts.

 

Yet, even though the procedure is legally considered a crime, Salafist sheikhs are leading campaigns in remote villages to perform free circumcisions on young girls and the authorities are doing nothing to stop them.

 

The story of young Suhair al-Bateh, who died a few days ago in a derelict medical clinic in her home village while being circumcised, has rekindled the fight against circumcision procedures. A National Council for Women member, Nohad Abu al-Qomsan, told NOW that these procedures have been on the rise since the revolution began. “One can say that all the efforts to ban this harmful custom have been in vain due to the fatwas and opinions of uneducated sheikhs and to the state’s turning a blind eye to these crimes. It's as if they were giving them a green light.” Al-Qomsan asked, “How can the state fight a negative phenomenon if those in power adopt it and believe it to be a necessity?”

 

Abu al-Qomsan explained that field observations point to the rising number of such procedures: “Unfortunately, those who perform such procedures have this entrenched mentality whereby the more you mutilate [a girl’s] genitalia, the more you preserve her honor. The truth is, however, that mutilating a girl’s genitalia deprives her of her womanhood.”

 

The National Council for Women issued a statement condemning “the ugly circumcision procedure,” which cost young Suhair her life. The Council went on to describe it as “a crime of unspeakable brutality, a violation of all monotheistic religions which emphasize the ban on violating the sanctity of a person’s flesh, and a violation of all national laws and international conventions.”

 

The Council called for investigating this “tragic accident” and punishing those involved, and urged citizens to report anything that has to do with circumcisions at any clinic or medical center.

 

This article is a translation of the original Arabic

A lecture on female genital mutilation is attended by Christian and Muslim women in a village nearby Beni Sueif, Egypt back in 2007 (AFP photo).

“Even though the procedure is legally considered a crime, Salafist sheikhs are leading campaigns in remote villages to perform free circumcisions on young girls, and the authorities are doing nothing to stop them.”

  • Comadrona

    I wish more girls would die from genital mutilation - then maybe the idiots would get the message.

    August 22, 2013