Egypt has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world: a staggering 91 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut, according to a 2013 report released by UNICEF (PDF). Genital mutilation is practiced in various forms across the African continent, from Nigeria to Somalia. In Egypt, it is most common—indeed, almost universal—in rural areas like Diyarb Buqtaris village where Soheir grew up. But it crosses all class boundaries. The West often labels the excisions an Islamic practice, but cutting occurs in Egypt in both Muslim and Christian communities, and it goes on despite the fact that the Egyptian Coptic Church and Al Azhar, the country’s leading Islamic authority, have condemned it.
Al Azhar may be “the country’s leading Islamic authority,” if that means anything, but it’s not so leading that it brought FGM to a halt. The Muslim Brotherhood did not condemn it, and when asked said it was not a priority.
In the past, barbers or local midwives often did the cutting in the back rooms of the girls’ homes. In recent years doctors have performed an estimated 80 per cent of the procedures. Even so, they may know little about the damage caused to the girl, says Vivian Fouad from the NPC. Her organization has worked to integrate a course highlighting the dangers of FGM into Egypt’s gynecological and public health curriculum. “The ‘medicalization’ of FGM is very high,” Fouad explained, and “this is very dangerous, as it gives legitimacy to the practice.” The procedure, which takes just a few minutes, costs anything between $4.50 in the countryside to $140 in private clinics in the capital: useful earnings the medics make on the side.
If doctors do it, that makes it look as if it’s a normal and in some way medically beneficial thing to do. That’s bad. Imagine if doctors cut off every girl’s left little finger. The girls would mostly survive, but they would have a worse, clumsier, narrower grip than people who kept both their little fingers. Adults should not do things like that to children.
An American-Egyptian artist who prefers not to be named says she was circumcised in a smart clinic in the coastal city of Alexandria during the early 1990s. “I thought it was normal thing and everyone did it. It was something to be proud of,” the 31-year-old told The Daily Beast. Her mother, from the United States, had been coerced by friends into organizing the operation. The young woman says she is still suffering from psychological damage as a result of the mutilation. She was sedated during the procedure, but that is is not always the case. She said she could barely walk or urinate for four days afterwards.
See? If everyone does it and it seems normal – then everyone does it and it seems normal. The fact that it’s agonizingly painful at the time and destructive later is obscured. Footbinding worked the same way. It hurt like fuck and it left girls and women crippled, but it was normal and everyone did it…until it wasn’t any more.
“In the era of the Muslim Brotherhood, the people perceived that they encouraged these practices,” Fouad said. Even though it is not addressed or endorsed in the Qur’an, genital mutilation fit into the kind of traditionalist view of Egyptian life that the Brotherhood exploited for its own ends.
In 2011, local media reported that the then-ruling Muslim Brotherhood was offering subsidized female circumcision at mobile clinics. The Daily Beast obtained a leaflet, dated April 2012, emblazoned with the logo of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and detailing discount medical services being made available. At the bottom the simple paper brochure advertised female and male circumcision for just 30 Egyptian pounds ($4.50) a procedure.
Well it’s the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s not their genitals that are going to be carved up.