TEL AVIV – The first doctor in Egypt ever to be convicted for female genital mutilation never went to prison and is still a doctor who practices FGM on girls and women, with the protection of Egypt’s police and justice system, VICE News found. With 90% of women and girls being cut, Egypt maintains one of the highest FGM rates in the world.
In January 2015, Raslan Fadl became the first doctor in Egypt to be successfully convicted of FGM when a girl he performed the procedure on died. Fadl, whose clinic was ordered to close, was sentenced to two years in jail for manslaughter and another three months for FGM. The historic verdict was lauded by the international community. However, VICE News discovered that not only did Fadl not go to prison, he was still working in a state hospital and using its public facilities to perform FGM.
The girl who died, 13-year-old Soheir al Bataa, was sent to Fadl’s clinic in June 2013 so that she could “become a woman” by undergoing the procedure to remove her clitoris and labia. According to VICE News, around 90% percent of Egyptian girls undergo FGM, making it one of the highest rates in the world. Government figures show that 600,000 women and girls are still mutilated every year despite the procedure being criminalized in 2008. Even though Egypt’s Grand Mufti issued a fatwa outlawing the procedure in 2007, many Muslims still believe that FGM is a religious duty.
Soheir died a few hours after the operation. “The doctor Raslan Fadl had no idea what he was doing, he cut some vessels and caused heavy bleeding,” Reda el Danbouki, a lawyer at Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), who fought to bring the case to justice, told VICE News. At least seven girls are known to have died as a result of a FGM operation since the 2008 law, but according to CEWLA that number is probably much higher since forensic files are often falsified to avoid prosecution.
Following Soheir’s death, Fadl offered her father $7,200 not to prosecute and also convinced him that his daughter was dead anyway so it wouldn’t make a difference. A year after her death, Soheir’s grandmother went on national TV and said, “We have always practiced FGM, for all our children. Just because one died doesn’t mean they will all die. It’s the same when a woman dies when giving birth, these things happen.”
VICE News went to Soheir’s village, where, as with many parts of rural Egypt, over 94% of women are mutilated. When the journalists arrived at Fadl’s clinic, a mob had formed brandishing steel bars to stop them from making inquiries. But a colleague went undercover, meeting Fadl at the public hospital under the guise that he wanted FGM for his niece. In the recorded conversation, Fadl claims that he is suing the government to legalize FGM. He also admits to killing Soheir but promises that the journalist’s “niece” will recover immediately after performing the 10 minute surgery on her.
Yet when VICE News called Fadl for comment, the doctor said that the judge’s assistant in his case returned his ID card to him and let him leave by himself. He denied the charge that he had agreed to perform FGM. “I’m not stupid enough to say something like this to somebody I don’t know,” he told VICE News. He also swore that he was against FGM, except when it was necessary “for example when there is an infection of the clitoris.” Fadl, who is also a sheikh, said he is even writing a book to debunk religious arguments in favor of FGM.
When VICE News asked Fadl for a sit-down interview, he told them they’d have to pay. A local police officer threatened to kill VICE News journalists if they bothered the “good doctor’s” family. “Everybody is covering up for doctors,” said Dr Amal Abdelhady, head of Egyptian NGO New Woman Foundation. “[Fadl’s] sentence should have been enforced to serve as an example, but it didn’t. The state took a general stance against FGM, but as soon as we talk about real cases, they close their eyes. When there is a trial, they don’t enforce the law, because they just don’t want to.”
Today, Egyptian doctors perform twice as many FGM procedures as 20 years ago when it was mostly performed by other women. According to a poll conducted this year by the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, only 58 percent of medical students think FGM should end.