Most Egyptian women – as many as 97 percent according to one survey – have been subjected to a horrific operation known euphemistically as “female circumcision”, and more correctly as female genital mutilation (FGM). In this procedure, typically carried out on girls aged between 7 and 10, the clitoris and sometimes all or part of the inner vaginal lips are cut off to prevent the victim from enjoying sex.

Egypt has the world’s highest prevalance of FGM, which is an African rather than an Islamic practice, performed by Copts as much as by Muslims. Nonetheless, spurious religious reasons are sometimes given to justify it, including two disputed hadiths (supposed quotations from Mohammed). In 1951, the Egyptian Fatwa Committee decreed that FGM was desirable because it curbs women’s sex drive, and in 1981 the Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque and University said that it was the duty of parents to have their daughters genitally mutilated.

The good news is that things have changed since then. FGM is now illegal – the government banned it in 1996 and again in 2007. Former first lady Suzanne Mubarak has spoken out against it, and the Islamic religious authorities issued a fatwa declaring it haram (forbidden). FGM is now in decline, but it remains at high levels, and the law is hard to enforce, especially in rural communities. Worse, the rise of religious fundamentalist parties since the revolution means there is now less political pressure to enforce the ban on FGM, and one Salafist MP has already called for it to be re-legalized.


Everything you need to know before you set off.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Egypt features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

19 places to get utterly lost

19 places to get utterly lost

One of the great joys of travelling is stumbling across unexpected places, wandering without a single destination in mind and embracing the journey. These place…

12 Sep 2017 • Keith Drew camera_alt Gallery
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
7 amazing African journeys

7 amazing African journeys

Africa is a continent of wild open savannahs, terracotta sunsets, thousands of vibrant green hills and rugged coastlines. Here, you can be chugging along on …

06 Jul 2016 • Harriet Constable insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook