Friday, September 21, 2007
Via the New York Times:
The men in this poor farming community were seething. A 13-year-old girl was brought to a doctor’s office to have her clitoris removed, a surgery considered necessary here to preserve chastity and honor.
The girl died, but that was not the source of the outrage. After her death, the government shut down the clinic, and that got everyone stirred up.
“They will not stop us,” shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. “We support circumcision!” he shouted over and over.
Circumcision, as supporters call it, or female genital mutilation, as opponents refer to it, was suddenly a ferocious focus of debate in Egypt this summer. A nationwide campaign to stop the practice has become one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades, uniting an unlikely alliance of government forces, official religious leaders and street-level activists.
Though Egypt’s Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice in 1996, it allowed exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole critics describe as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless. But now the government is trying to force a comprehensive ban.
Not only was it unusual for the government to shut down the clinic, but the health minister has also issued a decree banning health care workers— or anyone — from conducting the procedure for any reason. Beyond that, the Ministry of Religious Affairs also issued a booklet explaining why the practice was not called for in Islam; Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, declared it haram, or prohibited by Islam; Egypt’s highest religious official, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called it harmful; television advertisements have been shown on state channels to discourage it; and a national hot line was set up to answer the public’s questions about genital cutting.