- Egyptian parliamentarians at the weekend passed a legislation banning the age-old culture of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country. Under the enacted law, those found guilty of practising FGM could be jailed between three months and two years plus a fine of US$ 900.
Members of the largest opposition Muslim Brotherhood opposed the new amendment and abstained from voting. Opposition deputies grilled their colleagues in the ruling bench of being carried away by western influence to the extent of contradicting Islamic law.
FGM, also known as female circumcision, has different types, the worst being infibulation or sealing. It is practiced in many African countries, including Egypt where 97% of girls and women between 15 and 49 years undergo the surgery.
Different communities perform the practice for different reasons. While some do it on religious [Islam] grounds, others believe it reduces sexual urges in women to enable them control their greatest pride, virginity until they get married.
Health experts and women's activists have been campaigning for a world-wide ban on the practice. Activists attribute it to the worst form of human rights violations meted out to a girlchild. They say most of the mutilated women endure stomach complications, and even die at childbirth.
The death of a 12-year-old girl in southern Egypt while undergoing at an illegal clinic the practice last year prompted a ban on FGM. The young girl's death forced the Health Ministry announcing to place a ban on FGM in all its forms. It also banned all medical practitioners from performing any FGM-related operations.
Egypt's highest Muslim authority, Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research had joined the First Lady Suzane Mubarak to support the government's move. Mrs Mubarak been a leading voice of anti-FGM campaign.
The amendment allowed the practice to be performed only in cases of "medical necessity," much to the consternation of human rights activists who believed that there should not be any excuse for carrying out the operation.
Both the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar mosque, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, and the leader of the Coptic Christian minority favour the ban, arguing that the Koran and the Bible did not back the practice.
But the government's arbiter of Islamic law, Muft Ali Gomaa, is among religious scholars yet to be convinced about total eradication of FGM. His comments that the "circumcision practiced in our era is forbidden" have merely succeeded in deepening dust surrounding the delicate issue.
Most Islamists endorsed the practice, although they advised circumcisors not to go beyond cutting the clitoris.
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