Islam and "female circumcision": The dispute over FGM in the Egyptian press, September 1994

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In September 1994, during the United Nations Population Conference in Cairo, CNN broadcast a report about the custom of clitoridectomy in Egypt. The televised report included footage of such a ceremony performed on a ten-year-old Egyptian girl in Cairo a few days earlier. This broadcast revived the public polemics on clitoridectomy in Egypt. Secular newspapers such as al-Wafd and al-Ahali opposed this practice while religious circles used the al-Sha'b newspaper to justify it. The religious argument is based on Islamic tradition although the origin of the practice is admittedly pre-Islamic. This position maintains that the type of clitoridectomy performed involves minimal excision, but in practice it is much more radical. There are voices from within the Islamic camp, mainly those of women, that call for the abolition of this practice, basing this demand on the fact that this act is a minor rather than major principle of Islamic Law. Although the secular educated classes in Egypt tend to avoid this practice, they are a minority. The public argument continues in a low key while in reality thousands of young girls daily undergo this traumatic experience which maims them in body and in soul. Unless there is a sustained public outcry against it, this mutilation is destined to remain part of the Egyptian reality for a long time. This paper discusses the positions of the two sides to the dispute, concentrating mainly on the opinions of the Islamic faction which upholds the continuation of genital mutilation. These opinions are expressed by male Islamic elders while opposing arguments are presented by women who decry this practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-418
Number of pages16
JournalMedicine and Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Clitoridectomy
  • FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), female circumcision
  • Khitan, Islam
  • Reduction
  • Tradition, media, CNN


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