Cairo: Mustafa, a father of three girls, is proud of having his children circumcised, and vows to do the same if he gets a new baby girl.

Under a new law passed by the Egyptian Parliament this week, female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is criminalised.

This is nonsense,” said Mustafa, a native of the south Egyptian city of Sohag who has been living in Cairo for around 20 years. “Circumcision for girls is a must as it protects their chastity,” added the 48-year-old Muslim father. “Islam also encourages circumcision for girls as well.”

Egypt’s Mufti Ali Juma, the country’s top Muslim cleric, has, however, branded the centuries-old tradition as sinful and un-Islamic. Egypt has intensified its fight against female circumcision after the death of two local girls last year due to complications from FGM procedure.

Heavy criticism

The new child law, which was greeted with heavy criticism from Islamist MPs, makes female circumcision a crime unless specialists rule it is a medical necessity.

The practice is believed to be widely spread in Egypt’s countryside in particular. “The amendments to the old child laws reflect strange values and foreign cultures,” said Mohammad Mokhtar Al Mahdi, a member of the Islamic Research Centre, an influential arm of Al Azhar, considered the Sunni Muslim world’s leading institution.

“The new law is alien to our traditions, the aim being to destroy the Islamic society’s values on the pretext of promoting the concepts of freedom and human rights,” he told Gulf News. “It must have been adopted under foreign pressure.”

“There has been no US pressure in Egypt in this regard,” said Naela Jabr, the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister. “There are international conventions by which all countries are guided.”

The official asserted that the new law does not contradict the Sharia [Islamic Law], “which has taken the lead in safeguarding rights of children and women.”

Under the new law, mothers of children born out of wedlock are given the right to get them a birth certificate, which is necessary in Egypt to have access to healthcare and schooling services.

This stipulation in particular has drawn fierce opposition from Islamists. “This will lead to the spread of vice in Egypt,” said Islamist MP Mohammad Al Beltagui.

Child welfare groups, however, consider the new right a breakthrough. “The child cannot be blamed for what the parents did,” said Somaya Sa’ad Al Din, an expert on child rights.

Local courts hear an estimated 12,000 suits annually filed by mothers of children born illegitimately or under non-official marriage contracts seeking legal recognition for them.

“Without a birth certificate, the child cannot attend the school, thus putting his future at stake,” Sa’ad Eddin told Gulf News.

Did you know?

Under a new law passed by the Egyptian Parliament this week, female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is criminalised.

Those involved in the practice shall be punished by a jail term ranging from three months to two years or a fine of Egyptian pounds 1,000 [Dh687] to 5,000 [Dh3,436].

The new law, meanwhile, sets 18 as the minimum age for marriage in Egypt. “Previously, Egyptians were allowed to legally marry at the age of 16.”