Egypt's high court upholds ban on female circumcision

THE MORNING ADVOCATE, Baton Rouge, Louisiana,
Monday, December 29, 1997: Page 7A.

Egypt's high court upholds ban on female circumcision

by Mae Ghalwash
Associated Press writer

CAIRO, Egypt - Ending a long battle between Islamic fundamentalists
and human rights groups, Egypt's high court Sunday upheld a Health
Ministry decision banning government-certified doctors and health
workers from performing female circumcisions.

Under the new ruling doctors and health workers who perform the
procedure referred to by genital mutilation by critics, face three
years in prison and hospitals risk closure.

The court decision cannot be appealed.

The proponents of female circumcision, including some clerics,
argue that the surgery is a requirement of Islam.  But that is
disputed by many Muslim scholars, and the clerics have never provided
strong evidence to support their claim.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled Sunday that the procedure is
in fact not one of Islam's dictates, and thus is subject to Egyptian

"With this ruling, it has become prohibited for all to perform the
female circumcision, even with the consent of the girl or her
guardian, the court said.

An exception could be made if a gynecologist approved the surgery
for health reasons.  "Violators will be subjected to criminal,
disciplinary and administrative punishment," the court added.

Health Minister Ismail Sallam announced the ban in July 1996
following a campaign by human rights and women's groups who say the
procedure is dangerous.

The surgery, typically performed on girls before puberty, ranges
from cutting the tip of the clitoris to removing all external

Many in Egypt - and other parts of Africa - follow the tradition on
the grounds it promotes cleanliness and curbs a girl's sexual

Sallam's ban initially was overturned by a lower court after eight
Muslim scholars and doctors contended that it exceeded the
government's authority and violated the legal rights of medical

But the Supreme Administrative Court said Sallam had the authority
to ban the procedure because "female circumcision" is not a personal
right according to the rules of Islamic Sharia (law).

Sheik Youssef al-Badry, a Muslim fundamentalist who spearheaded the
case and who has challenged a number of intellectuals and artists for
work deemed offensive to Islam, told reporters after the ruling that
the judge had wronged his religion.

"The judge is a man, and a man can do right or make mistakes,"
al-Badry said.  "We shall meet in the day of judgment in front of the
big judge, in front of Allah.  I want to see what he says to Allah.

An estimated 70 to 90 percent of Egyptian women are believed to be
circumcised.  The ritual drew international attention in 1994, when
CNN carried footage of the circumcision of a 10-year old girl by an
unskilled practitioner.

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