Sunday, April 27, 2014

The War on Women, Egyptian Style

In 2008 the government of Hosni Mubarak criminalized female genital mutilation in Egypt.

The law had little effect.

In 2011, during the Arab Spring the Obama administration was happy to see the dictator Mubarak overthrown. When the Egyptian people elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as their president, the Obama administration celebrated by immediately sending then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Cairo.

Clinton was the first foreign leader to meet with Morsi.

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood was notably in favor of female genital mutilation did not faze Hillary Clinton, supposed champion of women’s rights.

British journalist Bel Trew—possessor of one of the world’s great names, even though it seems to be misspelled-- reports in The Daily Beast:

“In the era of the Muslim Brotherhood, the people perceived that they encouraged these practices,” [Vivian] Fouad [of the National Population council] 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….

In a televised debate in 2012, then-President Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military last July, brushed off female genital mutilation as a personal issue between mother and daughter. 

As you know, the Obama administration was not at all pleased by the military coup in Egypt.

Now, however, under a military dictatorship, the Egyptian government will, for the first time, prosecute a physician for mutilating a child.

Trew reports:

It was supposed to be a routine “operation.” The parents of 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea, from a village in Egypt’s Nile Delta, took her to be circumcised at the local clinic that had been recommended by friends.  They had done the same with her older sister a year before. A doctor typically cuts off the whole clitoris or a part of it, sometimes in extreme cases removing the labia as well, in a procedure that is now illegal but still deemed necessary by many Egyptians to preserve the purity of the child and control sexual desire. 

Dr. Raslan Fadl, a well-respected imam and employee of the nearby government hospital, performed the illegal procedure as he had done on dozens of other girls. He typically treated 10 women a day, locals said afterward. But something went wrong and Soheir, described by friends and family as bright, smart and lively, died en route to hospital.

According to the forensic report issued shortly after her death last June, an allergic reaction to penicillin administered during the controversial operation is what killed her. 

This little girl’s case, like many before her, would normally have been buried and forgotten. Since female genital mutilation  (FGM) was criminalized in Egypt in 2008, both parents and practitioners fearful of arrest have kept quiet when there are complications….

But now, for the first time in Egyptian history, a prosecution is under way. Both Soheir’s father, a farmer, and Dr. Fadl are to stand trial charged with illegally mutilating the child’s genitals and with manslaughter. The opening session in court is scheduled for next week…. 

If Dr. Fadl is found guilty he could face 10 years in jail.  The law calls for those performing FGM to be fined up to $700 and given three years behind bars, but because the operation resulted in death, he faces a longer sentence. It is still unclear what the punishment of the girl’s father might be. 

As has been noted, on this blog and in many other places, this barbaric practice is extremely widespread in Egypt. It is also practiced in other North African nations. 

The facts are depressing:

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. 

At the least, we understand that outlawing female genital mutilation did not stop it, not at all. And we know that a democratic election is just as likely to elevate a candidate who finds nothing wrong with it.

Now, what should a government do when faced with such deeply engrained disrespect for the law, such visceral misogyny? What will it take to put an end to this barbarism?

Aside from a show of martial force, perhaps the world's opprobrium would have some effect. Exposing such practices to the whole world, shaming those who do it, seems like a step in the right direction.

Naturally, Islamists strongly oppose a public exposure of depravity that is carried out in the name of their religion. Recently, they have been hard at work trying to shut down Honor Diaries, a Clarion project film about Muslim honor killings, among other misogynist practices.


Anonymous said...

Word of the day: Faze
verb :to cause to be disturbed or disconcerted; daunt: The worst insults cannot faze him.
1820–30, Americanism; dial. form of feeze

Can be confused: faze, phase.
"did not phase Hillary Clinton" ... should be "did not faze Hillary Clinton"

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... correction made.

Anonymous said...

How does one who opposes such barbarity make progress in a culture where the procedure is performed on 91% of women? Indeed you raise the question of how Obama's simplistic, naive views on "democracy" (something he does not practice at home) play into countering such a practice with such widespread acceptance. I doubt "democracy" is a strong card here.

Do town shamans do this, or are medical doctors and gynecologists in on this, too? Such a clearly elective surgery to supposedly restrict a woman's libido would seem to violate the Hippocratic Oath.

What is most disappointing is that 15-20% of Egypt is Coptic Christian. How does FGM get to 91% without the Copts practicing it in some form also? Disgusting, misogynistic, and fundamentally un-Christian.

So I am left wondering what accounts for the remaining 9%. Is this practice common with girls from educated, wealthy families, which I assume are mostly in large population centers like Cairo and Alexandria? I wonder if education or socio-economic factors have any impact.

You don't get to 91% of anything in any culture without widespread, unencumbered acceptance.

I'm sure Hillary will make this an important issue in her campaign. If she uses all her powers of persuasion, she may have some impact on this Egyptian cultural phenomenon. Such a success would not go unnoticed. Think of the benefits... she'll have her first real accomplishment as a public figure! I wonder what Hillary's stance was on the Brandeis decision to cancel Ayaan Hrsi Ali's commencement appearance, given that Ali faced FGM next door in Somalia. Does any reporter dare ask? Didn't think so.


Anonymous said...

I've read Arab & Islam histories for 20 years. Am still appalled at DC & pundit ignorance.

It's a different Civ, different planet.

Our inner conscience vice their Public Honor/Status.

Our chivalry vice their FGM /purdah /honor killings (sons kill mothers) / women as chattel (what's chattel - animals?).

Our res publica / community / patriotism Vice their kinship system and Ummah (separate nations are Haram).

Our Democracy vice their Theology (the only Legitimacy, but many contending sects).

Our Science vice the Koran and Hadiths. (Note the Pope's Regensburg speech controversy)

Our books, culture, music, movies vice K & H (Khomeini: "A woman singing is like seeing her naked.")

Our enterprise vice their passivity (punctuated by riots and slaughter).

I could go on. Different Civs, planets. -- Rich Lara

sestamibi said...

Hey Stuart, remember this one?

Anonymous said...

Well, Rich, I will enjoy eating mansaf and dates at your circumcised daughters wedding. No booze, of course. I'm sure she will be as enlightened as you are and a great prize for her husband...

Can she read?


Anonymous said...

It's a small planet now. The different civs. join us now. To not chose is now a choice.

I could go on. Different civs, small planet.


Anonymous said...

I've encountered this kind of response before. Luckily, so far, non-threatening.

Ripostes have included: I'm mentally ill; I'm a racist; I'm ignorant; I'm intolerant; I'm a warmonger ... among other ad hominums.

So far, none have addressed the gravenum(s) of my arguments.

Based on my limited exposure on the subject, I'm forced to conclude that those who disagree w/me refute me on personal terms.

That's, IMHO opinion, a non sequitur that avoids debate on the facts of the issue.

One of the 4 Rightly Guided Ones: "Don't tell me your birthplace. Tell me your genealogy."

Three of the 4 were murdered. -- Rich Lara

Dennis said...


Nice little one liners, but I would prefer that you expound on the dichotomies entailed. Truisms are good as far as they go.
Whether or not someone finds it a bit difficult to understand would be better served by a little more information. I think I understand where you are going, but like to know where it leads.

sestamibi said...

Oops, my comment at 8:39 PM yesterday should have been posted in response to "The Benjamin Franklin Effect" below. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Dennis: Thanks for civil response. I regret your request is impossible to fulfill.

As I mentioned, I've been reading books, essays, and monographs on Arab/Islamic Civ & culture for 20+ years. I own a personal library.

That Civ is vast, complex, and variegated. As one would expect. This forum is not the place to write books about it.

Two suggested readings: "The Arab Mind". "The Clash of Civilizations". That's a start. Best -- Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

Rich Lara:

If you have not read it, I encourage you to read: "The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis" by Robert R. Reilly.

It's a great read. It demonstrates how Muslim culture refused to merge faith with reason, and the disastrous consequences that followed. It really demonstrates those flash moments or brief eras in cultural history that make such a difference. Culture is decisive.


Anonymous said...

Tip: I read reviews. Plan to buy book, but lately immersed in histories of WW 1 (2014 is Centenary). Sir Max Hastings' "Catastrophe" & "Poilu" are two.

I consider 1914 perhaps the beginning of the end of WCiv. I know it sounds dramatic, but that's my fear.

Roger Scruton wrote a brilliant post-9/11 book. "Civilization and Its Enemies" by Lee Harris is also fantastic.

The destruction of the Mutazilites (sp) about 1000 years ago ended Islam's last chance. -- Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

Yes, and that's covered in Reilly's book. Let me know what you think when/if you get around to reading it.

I'm particularly curious abou the Scuton book. I have a good friend who studied under him, and I read his "Modern Philosophy." Always interested in his stuff...