“Egyptian Is Convicted of Genital Mutilation” Merna Thomas tells us on January 26, 2015, in the New York Times. This first conviction is stunning, and Equality Now deserves credit for appealing the original acquittal of physician and father who ordered amputation of thirteen-year-old Suhair el-Batea’s clitoris. Equally remarkable is that the New York Times has at last called what happens to the female vulva, –not ‘cutting’, the paper’s previously favored term–, but “mutilation.” Check out earlier reports. According to the NYTimes, not dismemberment, damage, injury, maiming but mere cutting, a kitchen-knife ouch, had been taking place – not death, not (soul) murder.
If you are reading this, you already know about FGM, but possibly not how high a rate saturates the most populous Arab state. Hubert Prolongeau, writing about Dr. Pierre Foldes, anticipates this information gap and dedicates the final chapter in Undoing FGM to the ancient civilization. “We’re in Egypt,” Prolongeau exclaims. “Why would we finish this book in that country?”
“First because Pierre Foldes has had high-level contact and his discovery has attracted attention there, but above all because … Egypt is one of those nations where excision stubbornly persists. It’s omnipresent yet at the same time taboo and a pretext for confrontation between a relatively moderate but rapidly expanding Islamist milieu; a government in denial that nonetheless tries to oppose it; and strong-minded militants, too few, who fight as they can. Ninety-seven percent: 97% of Egyptian women who have ever been married and are aged 15 to 45, as often Christian as Islamic, are excised. This number, which dates from 2000, is official. It is stupefying. Most specialists on FGM consider it exaggerated: the questionnaire that produced it was the first to use the word “circumcision” and because “circumcision” is thought to be an Islamic practice, not admitting it would make oneself appear a bad Muslim. OK, let’s accept the argument. That doesn’t obviate the fact that, even if inflated, the figure speaks to a reality that according to other sources touches 80% of Egyptian women. Who, among the hordes of tourists unfolding regularly on the Nile River to cruise between Luxor and Aswan, to run from the Museum of Cairo to the Pyramids amid the concert of horns and the dust of the capital, to plunge into the shadows of royal tombs, among all those people, who is informed? In Upper Egypt, where vestiges of the past are most famous, prevalence explodes, far exceeding 90%” (p. 210).
These statistics horrify. They shriek for action.
And measures are being taken. Also on January 26, as guest of the European Commission, I attended a follow-up to the “Communication” called “Towards the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.” “What still needs to be done?” we experts had been asked. My response: 1) fund European-wide networks such as the EuroNet-FGM launched in 2002 by UnCUT/VOICES Press author Khady; 2) Focus on African youth and especially the remarkable young women courageously leading a movement that, strategically, also includes young men; 3) Underwrite holistic institutions serving affected populations modeled on Dr. Foldes’ Institut génésique; 4) Anchor female genital mutilation studies in universities like efforts being made at Oxford and Harvard; and 5) sponsor the arts and social media against FGM.
This last point is crucial. A girl died a needless death in Egypt. Emotion is appropriate. Anger. Mourning. Anxiety. Regret. Take policy directives – dry, abstract – and ensure they reflect the appropriate feelings. We haven’t done enough. Our response has been too weak, our dedication faulty. What might Suhair have become? How many lives might she have touched? How might Egypt prosper had so many Suhairs not been maimed?