Tara Todrass-Whitehill / Reuters / Landov

Egypt court jails doctor in 'historic' FGM prosecution

Father of dead girl also sentenced in retrial reportedly requested by Justice Ministry

An Egyptian court sentenced a doctor to prison Monday for the female genital mutilation (FGM) of a 13-year-old girl, resulting in her death. It is the first such conviction that the country’s judiciary has handed down.

Women’s rights advocates who had pushed for prosecution of the doctor are calling the decision “historic.” A law against FGM has been in place since 2007, but this was the inaugural case to go to trial.

Dr. Raslan Fadl had initially been acquitted on Nov. 20 over the death of Soheir al-Batea, who died in June 2013, after undergoing an FGM procedure carried out by Fadl, prosecutors said. But Egypt’s Justice Ministry reportedly contacted the court in the northern city of Mansoura where the ruling was handed down, “saying it was displeased with the judgment,” said Suad Abu Dayyeh, a Middle East and North Africa consultant for international women’s rights organization Equality Now, which helped bring the case against Fadl. In a retrial, a court sentenced Fadl to two years in prison — the maximum sentence. His clinic was suspended for a year, and Soheir’s father — who had ordered the procedure — was sentenced to three months of house arrest.

Reda el-Danbouki, a lawyer acting on behalf of those seeking a prosecution, confirmed the sentencing to Al Jazeera. Egypt’s Justice Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

“This is the first time that this law has ever been implemented. That’s why we’re very much pleased and happy,” said Abu Dayyeh. But she noted that “this girl had to die for the law to be implemented.” Abu Dayyeh hopes that the sentencing will detract other Egyptian physicians from the “medicalization” of what she has described as sheer brutality.

According to forensic reports seen by women’s rights advocacy group Equality Now, Soheir suffered an allergic reaction to penicillin.

FGM — which often involves cutting off parts of the female genitalia and, in some cultures, sewing together the labia — is sometimes 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 just eight years ago, 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. 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.

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