Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Fgc Reformation: The Egyptian Cultural Dilemma

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Fgc Reformation: The Egyptian Cultural Dilemma

Article excerpt

Approximately 130 million women worldwide are believed to have endured the procedure of female genital circumcision (FGC), while another estimated 2 million females become part of this growing data every year.[1] Although the timing of the procedure can vary, from shortly after birth to immediately before marriage, it is known to occur largely between the ages of five and eight years old for the majority of females.[2] From the perspective of many Western scholars, FGC is merely a prelude to a life of patriarchal submission; but to the practicing cultures, this process serves as an entrance into womanhood. Within the Middle East, FGC is still practiced in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Mauritania, and Somalia.[3] Among these states, Egypt has the longest history of advocacy and legislation condemning FGC.[4] The origins of the procedure have been linked to Egypt, which is known as "the FGM capital of the world."[5] Egypt will thus be the main focus of this article. In Egypt and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the surgical procedure is intended to guarantee the sexual restraint of women and maintain the purity of females within a household, thereby securing family honor within the community.[6] The woman is left afterward to cope on her own with the physical and psychological consequences of FGC.

THE ORIGINS OF FGC

Since the 1920s, activists within Egypt have attempted to diminish the prevalence of FGC in the country. This, however, has proven to be an uphill battle, as the practice is extremely embedded within the country's culture and history.[7] While historical associations of FGC are a controversial topic, there is a widely accepted account that Egypt was in fact the place where the practice first emerged. Evidence in support of this claim includes accounts by the Greek geographer Strabo dating back to 25 B.C. and Greek historian Herodotus during the fifth century B.C. Both write of FGC being practiced in Egypt. This has led many to believe Egypt to be the area from which FGC originated. A Greek papyrus dating back to 163 B.C. also discusses Egyptian female circumcision as a condition for the attainment of dowries.[8] Another papyrus dating back to fourth century written by St. Ambrosius of Milan explained the timeline of male and female circumcision in Egypt-both occurred at the age of fourteen; and for females, he noted the significance of this age as the beginning of menstruation and the rise of sexual desire.[9] In addition, physical evidence in the form of mummies was discovered by archeologists in Egypt that prove clitoridectomy and infibulation were conducted.[10] The reason for the procedure in ancient Egypt is uncertain; in contemporary Egyptian society, however, FGC is viewed as a religious practice of Islam and Christianity.

The Religious Context

In Egypt, FGC is known as tahara, or purification, and as the term suggests, it is linked to religion. Some proponents even claim it is derived from certain religious texts.[11] In Muslim families within Egypt, FGC is viewed as an essential procedure to safeguard the virginity of a female until marriage.[12] A 2007 study conducted in Cairo confirmed that some women felt FGC was a practice in accordance with the Islamic Sunna (Muslim law incorporating thehadith (or sayings) of Muhammad and the Koran). Specifically, these women quoted the hadith stating, "The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to Um Atiyya Al-Ansariyyah, a woman who used to perform circumcision in Madina, 'Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.'"[13] Another hadith describes a conversation between Muhammad and a circumciser of slaves, Um Habibah, who asked Muhammad if she should stop the practice. Muhammad told her it was permitted and warned her, "If you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face and is more pleasant for the husband."[14] Religious claims such as the former hadiths are controversial. …

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