Egypt mufti says female circumcision forbidden

CAIRO, June 24 (Reuters) - Egypt's state-appointed Grand Mufti said on Sunday that female genital cutting was forbidden by Islam after an 11-year-old girl died while undergoing the procedure at a private medical clinic in southern Egypt.

Genital cutting of girls, often referred to as female genital mutilation or circumcision, is banned in Egypt although the practice remains widespread as a rite of passage for girls and is often viewed as a way to protect their chastity. "The harmful tradition of circumcision that is practised in Egypt in our era is forbidden," Mufti Ali Gomaa was quoted as saying by the Egyptian state news agency MENA.

The statement was the strongest yet against the practice by the Mufti, who is the government's official arbiter of Islamic law. The Grand Sheikh of Cairo's prestigious al-Azhar mosque, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, had previously described the practice as un-Islamic although some other clerics have supported it.

Both Tantawi and Coptic Pope Shenouda, the leader of Egypt's minority Christian community, have said that neither the Koran nor the Bible demand or mention female circumcision, which is usually performed on pre-pubescent girls.

The statement came after Budour Ahmed Shaker died on Thursday while undergoing the procedure in the southern province of Minya after she was given a large dose of anaesthetics, security sources said.

Egypt's doctors' syndicate has launched an investigation into the death, an Egyptian newspaper said. The girl's father has filed a lawsuit against the doctor for negligence and the doctor could face up to two years in jail, the security sources said.

The practice involves cutting off part or all of the clitoris and other female genitalia, sometimes by a doctor but also often by a relative or midwives. Side effects can include haemorrhage, shock and sexual dysfunction.

The practice is performed on both Muslim and Christian girls in Egypt and Sudan, but is extremely rare in most of the rest of the Arab world. It is also common in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

A 2005 UNICEF report on the practice showed that 97 percent of Egyptian women between ages 15 and 49 had been circumcised. Egypt's campaign to end female cutting has included television programmes aimed at persuading parents to abandon the ancient practice.