Nariman El-Mofty / AP

Egypt’s first FGM trial ends in not guilty verdicts for doctor, father

Months-long trial followed death of 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea after undergoing banned procedure

Wilted flowers left by the tomb of Batea, who died after undergoing an FGM procedure by Fadl.
Tom Dale / Equality Now

An Egyptian court on Thursday handed down not guilty verdicts in the case of Raslan Fadl — the first doctor in Egypt to be tried for committing female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the rights group Equality Now. The landmark case was closely watched by anti-FGM activists who hoped the verdict would set a precedent for enforcing a nationwide ban on the practice and deterring doctors and families from the damaging medical procedure.

Fadl was charged over in the case of 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea, who died on June 6, 2013, after undergoing an FGM procedure carried out by Fadl, prosecutors said. According to forensic reports seen by women’s rights advocacy group Equality Now, she suffered an allergic reaction to penicillin.

If found guilty Fadl could have faced up to two years in prisons. But after a months-long trial he was acquitted alongside the girl's father Mohamed al-Batea, who had also been charged in the case.

Anti-FGM activists greeted the verdict with disappointment.

"It is awful that after what seemed to be strong moves towards a positive outcome that Soheir has not been given justice. We can only hope that the strong commitment by the Egyptian government to finally take FGM seriously will result in further moves in the right direction and we will now discuss next steps with the local lawyers," Suad Abu Dayyeh, a Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, which helped bring the case against Fadl.

She added that it was "vital" that the law prohibiting FGM is properly implemented in country where over 27 million women and girls — more than 90 percent —  have been affected by cutting.

"This is the first ever FGM trial there and there has been real enthusiasm shown to ensure justice prevails. We hope that more cases are brought forward and that every single Egyptian girl is protected from this extremely severe form of violence against women which limits the hugely beneficial potential of women and girls," Dayyeh added.

FGM — which typically involves cutting off parts of the female genitalia and, in some cultures, sewing together the labia — is practiced under the belief that it may prevent extramarital sexual activity. In nearly half of all countries where FGM is practiced, girls are often under the age of five when the procedure is performed, according to a July 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization (UNICEF).

Egypt banned all forms of female genital cutting in 2007, decades after feminists like author and physician Nawal el-Saadawi mounted civic campaigns to end the practice. But as Saadawi observed in her 1977 book “The Hidden Face of Eve,” in which she explored FGM as practiced in Egypt and around the world, bans are difficult to enforce because cultural taboos on discussing sexual violence prevent victims from coming forward.

An estimated 125 million women worldwide have undergone some form of FGM, UNICEF reports. Of those, 1 in 5 lives in Egypt — the second-most populous Muslim country in Africa. Equality Now estimates that 91 percent of Egypt's female population has undergone the procedure.

While the practice is not specific to Muslims, it is prevalent in many Muslim-majority countries in Africa, as well as Yemen and Iraq. In Niger, 55 percent of Christian women have undergone the procedure, while 2 percent of Muslim women there have experienced some form of cutting.

Prevalence of female genital mutilation, by country

Percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have undergone FGM

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