Egypt faces its first FGM trial

In a country where 90 per cent of women suffer this mutilation, villagers are rallying round the doctor who performed the procedure on a young girl who subsequently died

Cairo

Patients still queue outside the house of Dr Raslan Fadl in the Nile delta village of Diyarb Buqtaris. In the village, many parents say that they, too, would still have their daughter operated on, despite the death of a 13-year-old girl after a procedure to mutilate her genitals in June last year.

Dr Fadl and the girl’s father are the first in Egypt to be prosecuted for the practice, which was banned in 2008. The ongoing trial is an important step in the global fight against female genital mutilation (FGM), women’s rights advocates say, but also underlines the persistence of the tradition and the difficult struggle to seek accountability for victims.

Genital cutting typically takes place between nine and 12 years old, mostly at the hands of doctors. A study has suggested that more than half of medical students support the continuation of the practice, despite the worldwide outrage it provokes.

On 6 June last year, the father of 13-year-old Suhair al-Bata’a took her to Dr Fadl for the procedure.

Suhair did not want to go, her grandmother told The Independent on Sunday last week, in an interview at the girl’s squat, thatched-roof house. “She cried, she refused,” she said. Still, her father took her, he later testified to police.

The procedure went wrong, and she was rushed to hospital. A forensic report lists the cause of her death as allergic reaction to penicillin.

Like many others, the case may never have come to light had Suhair not died, and had her father not originally told police that the doctor had performed FGM. The father later changed his story, prosecutors now claim, to say that Dr Fadl had been operating on genital warts. But activists campaigned to have the case reopened and in March the prosecution commenced.

“She was a sweet girl, like honey,” Suhair’s grandmother said, her voice cracking slightly. She has another granddaughter, 10, who is Suhair’s cousin. Would this young girl, too, be cut? “It’s up to her mother,” her grandmother said. “It is [good for girls]. Me and my five sisters were circumcised. It’s only tradition. We came into this life and our families had the custom of doing this to us.”

The family home in Diyarb Buqtaris The family home in Diyarb Buqtaris The practice is so deeply entrenched in Egypt – particularly in rural communities, but also in cities – that it is known as “the pharaonic custom”. In only three other countries is it more prevalent – Djibouti, Guinea and Somalia.

The court case underscores a broader cultural clash between modernity and tradition. In the West, FGM is considered abhorrent, and prominent figures from Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie have condemned it. But in Egypt, the act is not universally dismissed. More than 90 per cent of women in Egypt have undergone the procedure, according to Unicef.

In rural Egypt, in the poor and less well-educated families among whom the practice is most common, it is supposed to curb women’s sexual appetites, and keep them faithful. In fact, sexual desire is undiminished, but sex becomes painful. Women who were subjected to the procedure describe pain and often prolonged bleeding, infections and trauma. The World Health Organisation estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM with “no health benefits” – with procedures mostly carried out between infancy and 15.

In Egypt, FGM is “supported by both men and women, usually without question, and anyone departing from the norm may face condemnation, harassment and social exclusion”, Unicef said in 2010.

Although poorer communities associate genital cutting with religious values, Egypt’s leading Muslim religious official says that it is forbidden. The Muslim Brotherhood officially backs the prohibition, although some members say the procedure is acceptable under certain circumstances.

In 2012, an official Brotherhood website published an article on FGM stating: “Where it does have to be performed, its advantages are that it reduces sexual arousal to a rate that does not exceed the normal average at that time and causes a woman many problems because of her lack of satiation and frequent arousal.”

Suhair's grandmother mourns Suhair's grandmother mourns But the phenomenon predates the rise of Islamism and is not practised in the otherwise more conservative countries of the Gulf. In Suhair’s house, there were two posters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an arch anti-Islamist, on the wall. Christians, too, carry out the procedure.

“It’s a cultural issue, not related to religion,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh of the campaigning organisation Equality Now, which is working with local lawyers on the landmark case.

At the second court session in the trial of Dr Fadl and Suhair’s father last Thursday, in the courthouse in Aga, the prosecutor asked for the maximum penalty to be handed down for carrying out FGM – two years in prison and a EGP 5,000 (£410) fine.

The doctor is also charged with accidentally killing Suhair, but Egyptian law allows for a family to reach a settlement on this charge. Human rights lawyer Reda al-Danbouki expects such a settlement to be reached. Dr Fadl is an imam at the village mosque, and a respected community figure. He gives cheap medicine to the poor when they cannot afford to pay, locals say.

In May, as it emerged the trial would go ahead, he was reported to have said: “What circumcision? There was no circumcision. It’s all made up by these dogs’ rights people [human rights activists].”

Ms Abu-Dayyeh said that young women from poor families often feel powerless to speak out against respected members of their communities and the weight of parental opinion.

Last week, Mr Danbouki drove to Suhair’s whitewashed tomb by the side of a field, a few minutes from the house where she grew up. The flowers left by her family were wilting. “The penalty that they face because of this charge is almost nothing, and I do not think that it will stop them. It’s still everywhere,” he said. “People need to be educated more about it, and the government needs to be pushed politically so they will take real action.” As result of education campaigns, dozens of villages have been declared “FGM free”.

Mr Danbouki claims that although the Egyptian Ministry of Health forbade the doctor from working, he still practises from his house, a few metres away from his clinic. It was not possible to verify Mr Danbouki’s claim.

When The Independent on Sunday visited the doctor’s house on Thursday, neighbours who contacted him by phone to request an interview said he was elsewhere.

But outside the house, a girl of about 10 climbed from a small three-wheeled taxi. A man took her by the hand and led her up the stairs, into the house, and out of sight.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London