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Female Genital Mutilation Trial Sheds Light on Egyptian Practice

  • Heather Murdock

Saud Abu-Dayyeh and lawyers prosecuting Dr. Raslan Fadl for allegedly performing a female circumcision, which is a crime in Egypt, but it no one has ever before been convicted, Aga, Egypt, July 10, 2014. (Equality Now)

Saud Abu-Dayyeh and lawyers prosecuting Dr. Raslan Fadl for allegedly performing a female circumcision, which is a crime in Egypt, but it no one has ever before been convicted, Aga, Egypt, July 10, 2014. (Equality Now)

A Health Ministry inspector testified Thursday in Egypt's first-ever female genital mutilation (FGM) trial, saying a 13-year-old girl died after undergoing the procedure despite her doctor's claims otherwise. FGM has been illegal in Egypt for six years, but activists say most Egyptian girls are still being circumcised, mostly in private clinics.

On an Egyptian talk show, women discussed female circumcision, also known as FGM. One woman said parents fear that if they don’t circumcise their girls for “purity” no one will marry them, or if they do, the new husband may force his bride to be circumcised on their wedding night.

But Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now says if a girl is circumcised she will never enjoy her sexual relationship with her husband, among other things.

“They might have infections, bleeding, pains, and also they will suffer all their lives,” she said.

Saud Abu-Dayyeh visits the family home and holds a picture of Soheir al-Batea, who died at 13 due to complications associated with FGM, Aga, Egypt, November, 2013. (Equality Now)

Saud Abu-Dayyeh visits the family home and holds a picture of Soheir al-Batea, who died at 13 due to complications associated with FGM, Aga, Egypt, November, 2013. (Equality Now)

Abu-Dayyeh traveled to the Egyptian countryside to attend the trial of Dr. Raslan Fadl, who allegedly circumcised 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea at her father’s request. After the procedure, al-Batea died from an allergic reaction to penicillin.

If convicted, Fadl could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and a $700 fine. The father also faces lesser criminal charges and a decision is expected September 25.

In court on Thursday, Abu-Dayyeh says, a Health Ministry inspector testified that the procedure Fadl performed was circumcision, not treating genital warts as the doctor previously claimed. Abu-Dayyeh says if the doctor is convicted this case could reduce the amount of girls that are circumcised by letting people know that it’s not just a crime in Egypt on paper.

“We believe that this is a very important case because this is the first case that goes to the court. This will be a lesson to the doctors who perform FGM to watch out, and that FGM is criminalized by law,” she said.

FILE - A woman holds a card in her lap about the problems with FGM during a session to educate women in Minia, Egypt, June 2006.

FILE - A woman holds a card in her lap about the problems with FGM during a session to educate women in Minia, Egypt, June 2006.

UNICEF says 91 percent of Egyptian women are circumcised and the practice is more common in the countryside, among both Muslims and Christians. Most of the procedures are performed in private clinics but many villages also have a midwife trained to cut.

Some activists fear that if Fadl is convicted, more doctors would refuse to do the procedure, and more girls would be essentially be operated on at home, in unsanitary conditions and without anesthesia, which already happens a lot.

Later on the talk show a woman cloaked in black says when she was about nine years old, she and six or seven other girls were circumcised with the same unwashed blade.

The pain was excruciating for days, she says, but the only comfort her mother - also circumcised - could offer was to suggest that she swim in the canal.

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