The cutting in the back rooms

FGM in Egypt.

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.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Footbinding in China was not only “normal” – it was considered a desirable feature that would render a young woman more marriageable, as she would be more valuable:

    The brides with the smallest feet were initially regarded as trophies by their affluent husbands, but as foot-binding spread even to the lower classes, it took on a different connotation – the brides with the smallest feet could be counted as assets. Crippled, they would stay home and sew, weave, embroider, etc., and thus contribute to the family income.

    Just as with those African tribes that load their women down with numerous heavy gold rings around ankles, wrists, and necks, the woman with bound feet is likewise crippled and unable to run away. She cannot escape.

    “the simple paper brochure advertised female and male circumcision ”

    Equal opportunity for all to be traumatized and mutilated – how great is Islam??

    I remember when I lived in NC, back in the late 1990s-early 2001, there was a story in the newspaper about an OB/GYN whose patient was a Muslim woman. He asked her, “If your baby is a boy, do you want to have him circumcised?” She said, “Yes, of course. And if it’s a girl?” The doctor said nothing. The Muslim woman pressed: “AND IF THE BABY IS A GIRL??” She was expecting some equivalent mutilation! This doctor, an American, finally presented a scenario that this Muslim weirdo would accept: If the baby was born female, he would pierce her clitoris with a scalpel to draw blood. The Muslim monstress was happy with this “compromise”.

    So why are AMERICAN doctors compromising with primitive, barbaric individuals whose every phrase shows they’re basically subhuman? Of course I mean that in the nicest possible way. How can anyone possibly sugarcoat this abomination??

  2. wannabe says

    Even if the Muslim Brotherhood came out strongly against FGM I’m not sure it would reduce the practice that much. It is pushed on girls by their mothers and other female relatives much more than by the fathers. The women believe that no matter what the price in pain, incontinence, and other physical problems for their daughter–even death–it is preferable to even the slightest greater chance that their girl will become a “whore” and shame their family.

    – They likely believe that FGM deterred them and so it will deter their daughters.

    – They look to the “licentious” women of the Western world where FGM is not practiced and fear that their own sexual desires would have been magnified beyond control or toleration had they not had the procedure.

    – Or, no matter how bad their own experience was, to prevent it being done to their daughters they would have to stand up to their family to prevent it. And often their family is their entire world.

    These are reasons why it is almost certainly better, contra commenter Blanche Quizno’s case @1, to allow a symbolic minor cut by an actual physician rather than the radical and extremely dangerous amateur procedures that are now common. No matter how unnecessary. No matter that even a minor cut may result in complications.

    This is obvious harm reduction. Granted, it is far from ideal, but it is much, much better than any alternative that is likely to work in the short-to-medium term. Changing minds is hard work, taking years or decades.

    The alternative is millions more mutilated women.

  3. kbplayer says

    Someone on Facebook was linking to this. It might have been you, OB, but can’t remember.

    Anyway, it’s worth a read.

    “The campaign against Hirsi Ali repeatedly reminded everyone to realise that the Islam she spoke of was in fact not the real Islam at all. It was barbaric and distorted indeed, concocted by mere men and not some divine entity. Even if one were to accept that female genital mutilation is not an Islamic problem, and more of a cultural issue, it still cannot answer how it is spread out as far as Malaysia. The reasons for the practice are the same every time: religion.

    However, that is not the most confusing part. Let’s accept that it’s solely a cultural problem for the sake of argument, it still seems fairly odd. For instance, why is it that only when someone connects the dots between female genital mutilation and Islam, people spring into action. A more pertinent question instead would be why people never spring into action when someone passes a fatwa allowing and requiring female genital mutilation. If it is not real Islam to circumcise young girls, then why did people realise it only after Hirsi Ali spoke about it? Fatwas are not passed out in secret, they are not hidden, and they are not covered under any imaginary cloaks. A Muslim’s war is not against a white supremacist, it is against his own kleptomaniac brethren.”

  4. quixote says

    About that “it’s worse when it comes from Muslims” thing: Yeah, interesting, isn’t it? Destroying the lives of half the population is never a problem. However, when you can use that to get at men you don’t like, then go for it.

    Castration of women is the problem. Not the excuse for it.

    (The word is appropriate, by the way. The point of castration is to turn someone into a non-sexual being. Cutting off the female version of the head of the penis — biologically the cut part of the clitoris and the glans are equivalent — is supposed to do just that.)

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    Medicalisation is an enormous extra problem. Once the white coats and advanced degrees have been co-opted into it, the fundamental ugliness and cruelty are muted in the public mind.

    Butchering a child in a sterile room while masked may be ‘safer’ but the elemental barbarism is the same.

    And it isn’t really changing the subject to point out that the ‘normalizing’ of male circumcision in the US is a terrible illustration of this process. I understand that Islamic insistence on male circumcision has not lead to the existence of any ‘safe’ medical tradition or professional class of butchers. The rate of complications and deaths is vastly higher throughout the Muslim world…

  6. Blanche Quizno says

    Agreed that medicalization increases the problem, making it all the more difficult to change. It mainstreams the procedure.

    BTW, it is not only in the Islamic world that the female relatives will take a child in for butchering without the parents’ knowledge or permission. I knew a woman here in the US whose husband had been taken by his grandmother to be genitally mutilated when she was babysitting him, without his parents’ permission or approval – and he was several months old at the time! And then they kept letting that cruel old hag babysit! WTF!!

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