In August, 2013, Nat Geo wrote that the rate for female genital mutilation in Egypt was dropping. (See The Eternal Sunshine of National Geographic.) Sadly, dropping means going from 97 percent to around 90 percent. In a culture where the practice is so embedded it is called “The Pharaonic Custom,” miraculously, this drop happened in only a decade.
The bad news: there are only three countries in the world where this practice is most revered – Guinea, Djibouti and Somalia. According to the UN, Egypt accounts for 25 percent of the 125 millions women and girls who have undergone this procedure – called Tahara (purity or ritual purity) in Egypt. Somalia’s status as a failed state is widely known, but according to the World Bank, Guinea’s GDP is $6.768 billion USD and Djibouti’s is $1.239 billion USD. Egypt’s $257.3 billion places it on the border between emerging market (its FTSE ranking) and developed economy (IMF.) Goldman Sacks has included Egypt in its Next Eleven (N-11) and the EIU and HSBC both like CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam Egypt Turkey and South Africa) for the next big emerging market. Djibouti and Guinea, small African nations which do not rank as free according to Freedom House, aren’t even a blink of an eye in any emerging market/developed/advanced nation acronym.
The Independent recently reported on a 13 year old girl who died of complications from FGM. Her father and the doctor who performed the procedure each face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and fines of $700, USD. This is Egypt’s first trial on FGM. Publically, the leading politically party in Egypt is anti-FGM as are the top Muslin clerics. But the majority of the girls suffering this procedure come from smaller, less educated rural areas almost outside the reach of this public sentiment. Reading both the Independents and Bloomberg’s coverage one would think this rural area is across the country from Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt’s two largest metropolitan areas. However, the trial is in the Nile Delta, the same delta on which both these cities lie. Daqahliyah, the home providence of the defendants, is only 120 kilometers from Cairo.
In the WHO report which demonstrated the decline in FGM in Egypt, there was another set of good news – among girls 17 and younger, the percentage of those who had undergone the procedure had dropped from 77 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2008. Obvious fears for safety have shelved anti-FGM programs due to Egypt’s turmoil over the last few years. While recently elected Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his government may be anti FGM, they have a lot of concerns facing them. And as Egyptian courts showed this week, the legal process there is not transparent, just and/or rational.
Possibly the most eerie thing about this subject is that in both the Independent and Bloomberg coverage, repeatedly it is men taking young girls to “doctors” to have this procedure done.