Following a two-hour discussion on Sunday, Egypt’s parliament – the House of Representatives – approved a bill that will toughen penalties on female genital mutilation (FGM) crimes.
Parliament Speaker Hanafi Gebaly said the legislative amendments will be up for a final vote only after it is revised by the State Council on legislative and constitutional terms.
According to a report prepared by the House’s Health and Population Committee, “the practice of female genital mutilation is still one of the worst crimes in Egypt, and so laws should be amended to impose harsher penalties on this crime.”
As a result, the report added, Article 242 of the Penal Code (law 58/1937) will be amended to increase the maximum and minimum prison sentences imposed on FGM crimes.
“Non-medical individuals involved in performing genital mutilation will face up to seven years in prison if the practice led to a permanent disability, and up to ten years in prison if the practice led to death,” said the amendment.
The amendment also said that medical professionals (i.e., doctors and nurses) who perform genital mutilation can face between ten and 15 years in prison.
“If the procedure led to a permanent disability, medical professionals involved can face a minimum of ten years in prison, and if the procedure led to death, the penalty will be toughened to be between 15 to 20 years in prison,” the amendment added.
Moreover, the amendment also added that medical professionals convicted of performing genital mutilation will be stripped of practising their job for up to five years, and have their clinics closed for the same period of time.
According to the same amendment, any other individual found promoting, encouraging, or supporting FGM in any of the ways prescribed by Article 171 of the Penal Code will be jailed, even if the procedure took place without leaving any harm.
Ali Gomaa, chairman of the House’s Religious Affairs Committee and Egypt’s former grand mufti, said “there is nothing in Islam that supports the practice of female circumcision.”
“I do not know why some insist on performing this practice even though Prophet Mohamed has never ordered that his daughters be circumcised,” said Gomaa, adding that “female circumcision is a practice that should be strictly criminalised.”
Gomaa’s argument, however, was rejected by Ahmed Hamdi Abu El-Kheir, an MP affiliated with the ultraconservative party of Al-Nour.
Abu El-Kheir insisted that Prophet Mohamed was in support of female circumcision, and that he has repeatedly asked Muslims to perform this practice.
He said female circumcision is not a crime that can cause permanent disability.
“This is a healthy practice recommended by Prophet Mohamed,” said Abu El-Kheir.
In response, Gomaa said there is nothing sure that Prophet Mohamed had asked Muslims in any way to perform female genital mutilation.
“Why do we insist on tarnishing our image in the world by claiming that female circumcision is recommended by Islam?” said Gomaa.
Ayman Abu El-Ela, deputy chairman of the Human Rights Committee, said female circumcision is psychologically and physically harmful for women.
“People perform this practice as part of misguided religious and cultural beliefs and it is high time to correct these beliefs, because female circumcision is a horrendous crime that goes against human rights,” said Abu El-Ela, indicating that “a university research found out that most of female circumcision operations in Egypt are practiced by doctors in private clinics.”
“After toughening penalties, doctors should realise that they would lose their job if they took the risk of performing this practice,” said Abu El-Ela.
Ibrahim El-Heneidy, chairman of the House’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the new law, approved by the Senate on 21 March, goes in line with the constitution.
“As the current penalties proved not enough to put an end to this practice, the new law comes to criminalise female circumcision by imposing tougher penalties that will act as a strong “deterrent”,” said El-Heneidy.