Genital mutilation: Good news, and bad

Forces are coming together to fight female circumcision in Egypt -- so why is it still happening at all?

Topics: Religion, Broadsheet, Middle East, Female Mutilation, Islam, Egyptian Protests, Love and Sex,

Culture — sometimes it’s the scariest thing on earth.

After reading today’s New York Times story about the perfect storm of forces coming together to fight female circumcision in Egypt, I couldn’t help thinking: You call this good news? For the past 50 years, there has been a small but vocal movement led by anthropologist Marie Assaad, now 84, to end the practice of carving up little girls’ private parts. According to the U.S. State Department, the Egyptian Ministry first forbade the practice of female circumcision in 1959, making it punishable by a fine and imprisonment. Since then there have been more bans, more media campaigns, more protests — not to mention countless girls who have died of botched procedures. And still, as was true decades ago, the practice is practically ubiquitous in Egypt: A 2005 survey found that over 95 percent of all Egyptian women reported being circumcised.

Now activists, government offices, official religious leaders and a few powerful women including Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of President Hosni Mubarak, are working together to curb the custom. Along with public protests, newspaper articles, television advertisements and the closure of a clinic where a 13-year-old girl recently died of the procedure, an anonymous hot line, staffed by some very brave women, is creating a safe place for people to air ambivalences and ask questions. The great hope? To reduce the practice of female circumcision in Egypt by 20 percent in the next two years. But as the New York Times’ Michael Slackman says in a podcast accompanying his article, it may take an additional generation or two to eliminate the procedure altogether.

You Might Also Like

Not screaming into your pillow yet? Here’s the thing that really gets me: The practice has no integral relationship with the tenets of Islam. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has produced a booklet explaining this. Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s grand mufti, has declared it “haram,” or prohibited by Islam, and Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Egypt’s highest religious official, has decried it. The only other Arab country that practices genital cutting is Yemen — a far poorer, less developed nation. So how can Egypt, with its close ties to the West, its nearly $2 billion in annual aid from the U.S. (more than $50 billion since 1979), allow such a bizarre and cruel practice to thrive across the whole of society — urban and rural, rich and poor, educated and unschooled?

The only answer is the prevailing evil that culture can do to the human mind — forcing people to go against their own best interests, the welfare of their children, the very tenets of their faith. I know it’s not that simple: Many Egyptians don’t know the practice is not required by their Islamic practice. Others continue to believe it must be in their daughter’s best interest to ensure she’s marriageable. And no doubt, many parents feel that they must do it to maintain their own status in the community. Still, the prevalence and intransigence of the practice remind me that sometimes not even the facts can make sense of the senseless.

There is one angle the Times didn’t fully explore: At a moment that Egypt is coming under fire for its antidemocratic oppression of opposition parties, I wonder if Mrs. Mubarak’s well-publicized campaign to excise genital cutting doesn’t mask a political point as well.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>