Heavy penalties of up to 20 years in prison for those who perform female genital mutilation was the latest step of the regime in Egypt to confront the phenomenon. The Egyptian parliament agreed a few days ago to adopt legislative amendments to toughen penalties, of up to five to 20 years imprisonment, for those convicted of this act. The amendments were mainly submitted by the Egyptian government, which demanded the “ban on female circumcision” and defined it as “removing, flattening, modifying, mutilating, or inflicting injuries on any part of her genitals.”

The legislation received great support after the support of the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, head of the Religious Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, Ali Gomaa, to tighten penalties after he explicitly supported the project and said that circumcision “is not part of Islam.” This legislation provides new hope for Egyptian women’s rights and human rights organisations, especially since the practice of circumcision is widespread in the country, according to the United Nations Population Fund in Egypt.

The fund says that FGM is widespread, with 92 per cent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49-years-old subjected to some form of female circumcision. According to UNICEF reports, in 2018, Egypt ranked fourth in the world and third in the Arab world in conducting female circumcision. Criminalisation began in June 2008, when the Egyptian parliament passed a law placing a prison sentence of three months to two years, or a fine of EGP 1,000 to 5,000 (about $60 to 400), for those who perform the surgery.

The new sanctions may be more of a deterrent to this phenomenon, which experts say causes psychological and physical deformities to its victims. Advocates for women’s rights in Egypt received news of the tightening of the penalty positively. The President of the National Council for Women, Maya Morsi, said that she was “happy” that the House of Representatives tightened the penalties. Morsi said in a statement: “Congratulations to the girls of Egypt and greetings to the House of Representatives.”

While Martha Mahrous, a member of the Egyptian House of Representatives, said that the parliament’s tightening of penalties for female circumcision “is a victory for the souls of the young women who were killed because of this matter.” According to Mahrous, in addition to imprisonment, the law requires the closure of the place where the circumcision was performed.

The United Nations says that about 72 per cent of circumcisions are performed in doctors’ clinics, which means that the law will significantly reduce this practice. “Medicalisation” of female circumcision means that it is performed by medical personnel, and it is considered the most common in Egypt, as 80 per cent of Egyptian women have undergone it. According to the National Population Council, Egypt ranks first in the world in the “medicalisation of circumcision,” with 82 per cent of the total circumcision cases. Some argue that medicalisation is a form of harm mitigation.

Violators see that this is what is being promoted to escape the “crime” of circumcision under the name of “plastic surgery,” especially since there is no medical term for this operation, and it is not taught in medical schools, according to the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

The continuous rise in the “medicalisation of circumcision” confirms that legal prosecution alone is not sufficient. In 2016, the Egyptian parliament amended the law on female genital mutilation to include doctors and parents who commit the practice, with penalties of up to seven years in prison for those who circumcise a female without medical justification and a more severe prison sentence if it leads to a permanent disability, or if the act leads to her death.

Parliament previously refused to consider female circumcision as a cause of permanent disability, despite a request submitted by some female members. Parliament justified its position that “determining the occurrence of permanent disability is a matter for the judge.” Women hold 162 seats in the current Egyptian parliament out of 568 seats, which is the largest representation of women in this parliament’s history.