In January, Raslan Fadl became the first doctor in Egypt ever to be convicted and sentenced to jail for female genital mutilation, following the death of a girl on whom he performed the procedure. But Fadl, who was also convicted of manslaughter and whose clinic was ordered to close, never went to prison — he went on the run. Worse still, he remains a practicing doctor. Today, VICE News can reveal that Fadl is still mutilating girls and women — with the help and protection of Egypt's citizens, police and justice system.
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In June 2013, 13-year-old Soheir al Bataa went with her family to a private clinic in her rural village to become a "fully-fledged woman". For around 90 percent of Egyptian girls, that means undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), a procedure involving partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia. In FGM's most severe form, the labia are sewn closed leaving just a small opening for urination, though this type is not practiced in Egypt. A few hours after being "operated" on, Soheir died of her wounds.
FGM was banned in Egypt in 1996 and criminalized in 2008 with sentences of between three months and two years, but it remains very common. The country has one of the highest FGM prevalence rates in the world, with around 600,000 Egyptian women still mutilated each year, according to government figures. The procedure is believed by many to be a religious duty — despite a 2007 fatwa outlawing it by Egypt's Grand Mufti, the state's official arbiter of Islamic law — necessary to ensure cleanliness and chastity.
In fact, it is a dangerous and agonizing procedure with no known health benefits and multiple known risks, including death. According to government agency the National Population Council, at least seven girls have died following a FGM operation since the 2008 law was enacted. According to Samaa at Turkey from the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA), "There are probably plenty more [deaths] we've not even heard of. We know most of the forensics files are falsified in order to avoid prosecutions."
The case of el Bataa was the first successful FGM prosecution in Egypt, and remains the only conviction. "The doctor Raslan Fadl had no idea what he was doing, he cut some vessels and caused heavy bleeding," explained Reda el Danbouki, a lawyer formerly working for CEWLA who fought tirelessly to bring the case to justice. "But a more or less legal procedure allows doctors to pay the families in order to avoid prosecution." Fadl allegedly offered Soheir's father $7,200 not to pursue the case. "He convinced him his daughter was dead anyway so, it won't make any difference," according to Danbouki and the NGO Equality Now, who campaigned to bring the case to court.
'Just because one died doesn't mean they will all die...these things happen.'
In an initial trial in 2014, Fadl was acquitted, but on January 26 this year, the appeal court found him guilty of both mutilating el Bataa and causing her death, alongside her father. Fadl was sentenced to two years in jail for manslaughter and a further three months for performing FGM surgery, in a historic verdict applauded by the international community. The only problem is, he never actually wewhereaboutsnt to prison.
In el Bataa's village, as in many parts of Egypt, the weight of FGM tradition still runs deep. In this lush green area on the outskirts of the city of Mansoura in the Nile Delta, about 94 percent of women are cut. Complications from the procedure — excessive bleeding, infection, psychological trauma, difficulties urinating and death all among them — are considered an acceptable risk. One year after el Bataa's death, her grandmother stood in front of a national television camera 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."
Guided by Danbouki, who now works for the NGO Women's Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, VICE News went to the town of Aga, to the former entrance of the clinic where el Bataa was "operated" on. This scruffy-looking building on a dirt road was closed after Fadl's trial, but two families have told Danbouki they have solicited Fadl to perform FGM on their daughters since. According to Danbouki, the mutilations took place in the doctor's house two blocks away from the clinic.
When VICE News arrived at the clinic, around a dozen villagers stopped us immediately and threatened to hurt us if we tried to get closer to their "decent and respectful doctor." Some were carrying steel bars, which convinced us to leave without any further inquiries. "As well as being a doctor, Raslan Fadl is also a famous sheikh, who preaches on Friday and gives food to those in need," said Danbouki. "People are convinced he is a good man. They all think they are carrying out God's will."
'I killed a girl'
However not everyone wanted to protect Fadl. One doctor well-connected with the village told us Fadl is working two days a week in Aga's public hospital. VICE News was able to confirm that Fadl is not just still working in the state hospital, he is using its public facilities to make appointments to perform FGM privately. An Egyptian colleague went undercover, pretending he wanted to have his niece circumcised, and recorded this conversation.
VICE News: I have a niece, and I'd like to ask you something. We would like her to be circumcised.
Raslan Fadl: Why me?
- I've asked my neighbors. People told me you performed an FGM on their daughter in your house.
- Where are you from?
- Ok, after Eid, inshallah, God willing.
- And how it will happen ?
- Well, you know I am suing the government to legalize FGM. Inshallah, I'll win and we can do it after Eid.
- Why are you suing the government?
- FGM is illegal because of them. I have to pay 150,000 Egyptian Pounds [$19,000] and I've been sentenced to two years in prison.
- I killed a girl.
- You did what?
- I killed a girl.
- Well, can we do it anyway after Eid? It won't be any problem?
- God willing, after Eid, no problem.
- How long it will take my niece to recover from the operation? Because we want to do it before she goes back to school.
- The operation will last 10 minutes and she will be able to go back home immediately.
- Really? Nothing will happen?
- No, it is as simple as aesthetic surgery.
"There are other doctors who can also perform this procedure," a policeman in charge of hospital security told us. "You can go directly to the private clinic in a town close by, they will tell you if [your niece] needs to be circumcised."
When VICE News called Fadl for comment, he said after he was sentenced in January "the assistant of the judge just gave [me] my ID card and told [me] to leave". He said he left Mansora two months ago and comes back "from time to time," but is not taking any more patients. He insisted he was against FGM as a practice, though said it could be necessary "in some specific cases, for example when there is an infection of the clitoris." He even claimed to be writing a book to denounce religious arguments that support FGM.
'The judges don't care about enforcement!'
The doctor calmly denied agreeing to perform FGM. "I'm not stupid enough to say something like this to somebody I don't know," he said.
The public hospital manager refused to answer to our interview request. But he contacted Fadl, who then called us to warn us: "Don't call him back again, you just make more problems." He concluded: "If you want to talk properly about this, you have to pay."
One local police office of Aga admitted he knew Fadl's whereabouts but did not want to confront his community. He said the doctor was "well-known, decent, and offers cheap prices for consultations." Before asking us to leave the village, this police officer warned us not to talk to his family and especially the women, "who are all circumcised."
"If you do, I will kill you," he warned, while showing us the semi-automatic pistol gun hung on his belt.
Watch the VICE News documentary: Reversing Female Circumcision: The Cut That Heals
Danbouki contacted high-ranking police officials and city and state prosecutors several times in 2015 to report that Fadl was still running free despite his sentencing. No action was taken.
VICE News contacted the president of Egypt's judges syndicate (the main institution representing judges in Egypt) about the case, who made a startling admission. "The judges don't care about enforcement [of their sentence]!" said Abdallah Fathi. Realizing what he had said, he quickly added: "No, in fact, we do, but we don't follow up on the enforcement. If it is a final sentence [that is not enforced], that means somebody, especially the police and the Interior Ministry, are not doing their job. And that's none of my business."
The Ministry of Interior refused to comment when contacted by VICE News.
'It needs to be cut'
"Everybody is covering up for doctors," lamented 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."
Egyptian doctors help maintain the normalcy of FGM, performing around three quarters of the procedures — twice as many as 20 years ago, when it was typically performed by other women in the community. Poor training means there is still a belief among many doctors that FGM is medically necessary. One medical student at Cairo's Al Azhar University, Egypt's oldest degree-awarding institution, told us that "Some women have a longer clitoris. It can rub against the clothes and create infection. This is why it needs to be cut."
Egyptian medical schools still don't properly train students about FGM hazards. According a poll conducted this year by the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations, only a third of medical students in Egypt have a good knowledge of negative health consequences of FGM. Only 58 percent of them think FGM should end. Ibrahim Mahmoud, the medical student in charge of IFMSA "Eliminate FGM campaign" is outraged that FGM hazards "are only explained in one page [of a textbook], and take up an half hour lesson during our seven years of training. The director of Egypt's medical universities does not care about the FGM issue and this is a disaster."
In June, the government and the National Population Council launched a national five-year campaign to try fight FGM and its abuses, mainly funded by the European Union. The NPC plans to train 800 prosecutors, general attorney and forensic experts in FGM and .Viviane Fouad, the head of the National Population Council, was very confident about ending FGM. She listed one of the "main achievements" and grounds for optimism as the fact that Egypt had finally managed to convict and jail a doctor who performed FGM. "This sends the clear message to every doctor that FGM is illegal," said Fouad.
It seems Egypt still has a long way to go.
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