Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, speaks at a news conference in Tunis, November 2011 (Photo: Reuters)
The head of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda insisted Friday that his group was opposed to female circumcision, after one of its MPs caused a storm by reportedly saying the operation was "aesthetic."
"We do not approve of female circumcision, a practice supported neither by Ennahda nor by religion, and which is not a part of our culture," Rached Ghannouchi told a news conference in Tunis.
"Whoever approves of female circumcision cannot remain within our ranks," he added.
Ennahda MP Habib Ellouze sparked outrage in the north African country with comments he reportedly made last week in an interview published in an Arabic newspaper.
"In the (African) regions where it is hot, people are forced to circumcise girls ... because in these regions clitorises are too big which affects the spouses," Ellouze was quoted as saying in the Sunday edition of Maghreb.
"There are more circumcisions but it is not true that circumcision removes the pleasure for women. It is the West that has exaggerated the issue. Circumcision is an aesthetic surgery for women," he reportedly said.
But Ellouze on Monday accused the newspaper of distorting his quotes, saying the journalist "attributed remarks to me that I have not said."
Ennahda, which heads the Tunisian government, is regularly accused of orchestrating a creeping Islamisation of society and seeking to limit the rights of women. It denies the charges.
The International Organisation of Migration says around 100 to 140 million women have suffered female genital mutilation around the world, mainly in Africa.