If the State Department wants to advance the rights of Egyptian women, why not ask President Mohammed Morsi to support a ban on female genital mutilation, a horrific form of violence perpetrated on more than 90% of Egyptian women, according to the World Health Organization? The point of the mutilation is to destroy a woman’s capacity for sexual pleasure the better to ensure her marital fidelity. Deposed President Mubarak and his wife campaigned against it: not so President Morsi. As the blog “An Arab Citizen” reported last year:
Speaking now on Egypt’s CBC Channel in a “meet your presidential candidate” type of event, the FJP/MB’s Mohammed Morsy was asked by a female doctor and panelist what he thought about recent calls to apparently “revise” the law banning FGM/Female Circumcision in Egypt. The candidate embarked on a long and vague answer which left a few, including the doctor herself, uncertain to a considerable extent as to his concise statement of position. But most of the people I have spoken to agree that the candidate seems to be suggesting that it should be the prerogative of the family to decide if they want their daughter to undergo it or not. When pressed further, he said it was not the role of the president to be involved in such details.
The Mubarak government banned the practice in June 2007, to little effect. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi refused to support the ban. The most prominent Muslim Brotherhood cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, defended a surreal “moderate” position of removing part but not all of the clitoris in a fatwa published on the website Islam Online:
The most moderate opinion and the most likely one to be correct is in favor of practicing circumcision in the moderate Islamic way indicated in some of the Prophet’s hadiths—even though such hadiths are not confirmed to be authentic. It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a midwife: “Reduce the size of the clitoris but do not exceed the limit, for that is better for her health and is preferred by husbands.” The hadith indicates that circumcision is better for a woman’s health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband. It’s noteworthy that the Prophet’s saying “do not exceed the limit” means do not totally remove the clitoris.
There is no greater right than the right not to be killed or mutilated, as 90% of Egyptian women have been. Is there a more heinous or systematic violation of human rights anywhere in the world than the genital mutilation of tens of millions of women? And is there a more revolting example of human rights violation in the name of religion than the declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading authority, Sheikh Qaradawi? Why doesn’t Secretary Kerry say something about this? And why don’t American feminists demand that he raise the issue? Does cultural sensitivity trump the most fundamental right of women?
We already know the answer. Genital mutilation is the elephant in the parlor of Egyptian Islamism. Although genital mutilation is not a universal tenet of Islam, it is so embedded in Egyptian Islam that to call it into question would be tantamount to challenging the legitimacy of Islamism in Egypt. The Obama administration has bet on Islamism as the wave of the future in the Arab world. Egypt’s opposition remonstrated to Secretary Kerry this week that America is perceived as the Muslim Brotherhood’s ally, against the fledgling democracy movement. Kerry’s response was to urge the major opposition party, the National Salvation Front, to drop its boycott of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rigged parliamentary elections on April 22, in order to speed the approval of an IMF loan.
This is realpolitik of the most cynical sort, and bad realpolitik. The Muslim Brotherhood is a hybrid of pre-modern barbarism and 20th-century totalitarian vanguard party methods, whose objective is to subvert and overthrow America’s allies in the region, notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Morsi’s now-notorious televised outbursts of Jew-hatred illuminate his character.
It is one thing to pursue realpolitik, and another thing to pursue stupid realpolitik. It is yet another thing again to do so while purporting to defend the rights of women, without mentioning the most widespread and onerous violation of women’s rights anywhere on the planet.
Kerry’s attempt to herd the opposition into Morsi’s camp in order to secure IMF funding has a very low probability of success in any case. Egypt’s checks are bouncing with grain suppliers, and its wheat stockpiles are down to a bare three months’ supply. Egypt imports half its food, and wheat is the main source of calories for the poor. The IMF is demanding an end to the food and fuel subsidies that have ballooned Egypt’s government deficit to a sixth of GDP, but the elimination of the subsidies probably would provoke political chaos. U.S. diplomacy in Egypt will have puked over its principles for nothing.