By Hisham Allam
CAIRO, Apr 27 2014 (IPS) - Saber Abd El-Mawgoud began his career with castrating sheep and goats before moving on to humans. His first human experiment was a young boy he attempted to circumcise back in 1999 on the insistence of the boy’s father.
The boy died a few days later of infection from the operation, Mawgoud, 67, from the Al-Monofiya governorate 60 km north of Cairo tells IPS.
Mawgoud says he continued to practise with a nurse as assistant for some years, before starting out on his own again.
“I used to do an average of ten operations per week, going around villages, and within a short period I became very famous,” he says. “Sometimes sheikhs would announce in mosques that had I arrived, so villagers would come and pick me up from the mosque.”
Soon he began operating mostly on girls. “After my bad experience with boys’ circumcision, I specialised in FGM (female genital mutilation) and performed thousands of operations. A few died, especially at times of epidemics.”
Mawgoud adds: “I faced legal prosecution more than once after parents filed complaints against me, but the security used to release me after I paid a fine for practising without a licence, especially because parents admitted they had agreed that I should perform the operation.”
By the year 2010, the number of operations he performed decreased after the ministry of health started a campaign warning people not to deal with quacks, and to visit doctors instead.
It was only at this stage that he discovered he had been doing these operations on girls in a wrong way. This was after a girl patient suffered heavy bleeding and was taken by her father to a hospital.
Mawgoud has no qualms, though. “Parents mutilate their children by custom, it is considered inappropriate that one leaves his son or daughter with no mutilation, otherwise they will bring disgrace to their parents when older.”
But Mawgoud did not operate on his own granddaughters, he says. He asked their mothers to take them to a hospital, fearing he might harm them.
The practice is damaging in many ways, says Dr. Naglaa El-Shabrawy, head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the Al-Azhar Faculty of Medicine.
“Female genital mutilation is a traditional habit of our ignorant society; it goes back to the pharaohs’ era and has no health benefits whatsoever or any religious basis in Islam,” she tells IPS. “It also has negative effects on women’s health; they suffer deadly bleeding, severe urinary retention and infections.”
The other problems are the psychological consequences, she says. “It can affect sexual relations and cause troubles that can last for life. Mutilation causes emotional apathy in women due to cutting a part of a human organ created by god.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 125 million girls and women worldwide have undergone some form of female genital mutilation in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East. Another 30 million girls are at risk of being cut in the next decade.
“In Egypt, overall support to female genital mutilation is declining, and the practice is slowly decreasing,” says Shabrawy. But the reported decline has been marginal. “The prevalence decreased from 76 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2008 for girls aged 15-17. Collective efforts are needed to accelerate and sustain progress towards the elimination of this harmful practice.”
But the practice continues even after female genital mutilation was outlawed in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl died in a private clinic while undergoing the operation.
The law provides for up to three years imprisonment for disfiguring the body and harming it.
An Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2005 indicated that poor families in rural areas in Upper Egypt are more prone to the practice.
The survey suggested that in the 15-19 age group, 80.7 percent girls had been circumcised, with the figure rising to 87.4 percent for women up to age 24.
For Abeer Masoud, 30, from Al-Monofiyah, the mutilation she had undergone ended her marriage.
“I decided not to marry again because of the physical and psychic pressure I went through, especially after my story spread through the village,” she tells IPS. “No one has proposed to me since my divorce.”
Women who have gone through the mutilation live with the consequences for life. “Female genital mutilation consists of cutting four parts in the female genital organ; one of them, the clitoris, is mainly responsible for sensation during intercourse, and this is what causes marital problems,” Shabrawy says.
“Female genital mutilation prevents sexual pleasure, and intercourse often ends with pelvic congestion, pain and vaginal discharges, besides the nervous and psychological tension.”