Egypt's high court upholds ban on female circumcision

News  Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Page 7A. Monday, 29 December 1997.

Mae Ghalwash

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 law.

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 genitals.

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

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 professions.

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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