Female Genital Mutilation:  A Glimmer of Hope in Egypt

Human rights and women’s groups in Egypt have reason to be jubilant. In December 1997, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld the Health Minister’s decision in July, 1996, banning government-certified doctors and health workers from performing "female circumcisions." The fundamentalists, needless to say, are miffed, claiming that the ruling was against all Islamic principles.

The practice is still followed widely in Egypt and Northern Africa, as well as in Yemen and Oman, by Muslims, Christians, Jews, and animists. Tens of millions of girls are affected every year. Female excision is not mentioned in the Koran and learned doctors of theology, when they deign to address the matter, spend very little time on it, simply recommending it as a pious act. According to the Economist, "The procedure varies from mildly painful to gruesome, and can involve the removal of the clitoris and other organs with knives, broken glass and razors—but rarely anaesthetic. It can lead to severe problems with menstruation, intercourse and childbirth, psychological disturbances and even death."

The Court for once confidently affirmed that Islam does not demand the operation, thus making its performance subject to Egyptian law. The ruling cannot be appealed. "With this ruling it has become prohibited for all to perform the operation of female circumcision, even with the consent of the girl or her guardians," stipulated the Court. "Violators will be subjected to criminal, disciplinary and administrative punishment." Anyone caught performing the operation may well risk three years in prison, and doctors and health workers would also face losing their licenses.