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Circumcision Exposed
Rethinking a Medical and
Cultural Tradition

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Male Genital Mutilation (Circumcision)
A Feminist Study of a Muted Gender Issue

Seham Abd el Salam ©
Cairo, June 1999
B.Sc in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Art Criticism,
MA Anthropology

Post masters Fellowship Research - Supervisor: Professor Cynthia Nelson
American University in Cairo, School of Humanities,
Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology Department

English Version translated by: Azza Ali (Ph. D) and Seham Abd el Salam



Chapter I: Introduction

I) Presentation of the study

A) The importance of the study

B) Research hypothesis

C) Research questions

D) Research objective

II) Literature review

A) The cultural history of circumcision in pre-modern societies

B) Circumcision in modern Societies

III) The theoretical framework

A) The first theoretical concept: Gender

a) Patriarchal gender politics and biases

b) Shaping images of masculinity and femininity

c) The link between children from both sexes and females

d) Sex as a means of social control

e) Menís emancipation movement

B) The second theoretical concept: the intellectual

a) Who is the intellectual?

b) The social function of the intellectual

c) The intellectual between conformity and deviance from the dominant norms

IV) Research methodology

V) Writing the research

Chapter II: What women know about men and what men know about themselves: Respondentsí Knowledge and Beliefs about MGM: The two perspectives

I) Backgrounds of the socio-cultural perspective

A) The Respondentsí perceptions of the differences between MGM and FGM

a) The age differences on the time of circumcision

b) The differences of motives behind male and female circumcision

c) Differences concerning the nature and consequences of the procedure

d) Differences concerning medical literature

B) The respondentsí perception of the difference between the circumcised and the non-circumcised male

C) The respondentsí perception of the relation of circumcision to masculinity and male sexual behavior

D) The respondentsí perception of the Egyptianís social justifications For MGM

E) The respondentsí perception of the validity of the social justifications for circumcision

F) The respondentsí perception of the world prevalence of MGM

G) What the respondents thought about nations that do not practice MGM

H) The respondentsí perception of the attitude of religions towards MGM

II) The medical/health perspective

A) The respondents' knowledge of the structure and function of the prepuce

B) The respondentsí perceptions of the significance and objective consequence of MGM

Chapter III: Cutting of live flesh: a closer look at circumcision: The respondentsí experience with MGM and FGM

I) The respondentsí experiences with FGM

II) The respondentsí experiences with MGM

III) Male respondentsí personal experience with MGM

IV) The male and female respondentsí experiences with circumcision of their sons

A) The male respondentsí experiences with circumcision of their sons

B) Female respondentsí experience with their sonsí circumcisions

C) Married couplesí experiences with their sonsí circumcisions

a) Saíeed and Dina

b) Dr. Hazem and Dr. Afkar

c) Dr. Hussam and Dr. Yara

d) Seif and Aisha

D) The respondents who recounted male circumcision experiences of other acquaintances

E) Medical doctorsí experiences with male circumcision as part of their profession

V) Degrees of MGM according to the respondents experiences

VI) Respondents who had non-circumcised male acquaintances

VII) The respondentsí experiences of seeing intact male genitalia

Chapter IV: And now where do you stand? Respondentsí attitudes towards MGM

I) Attitudes of respondents before getting new information about MGM

A) The degree of adherence to MGM

B) The personal attitudes towards intact men

C) Attitude towards the societyís right to alter the individualís body

D) Attitudes towards conformity to the dominant social trends

a) Hailing conformity as a value

b) Uncertainity (with inclination towards conformity)

c) Uncertainity (with inclination towards deviation from the dominant)

E) Attitudes towards FGM and MGM

F) Attitudes towards the idea of preventive surgery

II) Attitudes of respondents after getting new information about MGM

A) Probabilities of changing personal attitudes towards MGM

B) Probabilities of raising MGM as a public issue

Chapter V: Revealing the nudity of the emperor: The final analysis

I) Analysis of the respondents' beliefs and knowledge

A) The respondentsí biases

B) Two ways of dealing with texts: sanctification and critical thinking

C) The effect of information on bias

D) Ideological contradictions

II) Analysis of the respondentsí experiences with MGM

A) The ritualistic nature of MGM in Egypt

B) The role of the medical institution

C) The backgrounds of doctors' acceptance or refusal to circumcise males

D) Mechanisms that promote acceptance of MGM

a) Dissociation of experiences

b) Naturalization of the pathological signs

c) Pathologization of physiological body structures and functions

d) Privileging culture over nature

e) Generalization of rare cases

E) Circumcision and gender power politics

F) Respondentsí experiences and circumcision myths

III) Analysis of the respondentsí attitudes towards circumcision

A) The traditional feminist attitude (female chauvinism)

B) Development of a different feminist awareness

C) Attitude of conformity

a) Conformity to the dominant socio-cultural traditions

b) Conformity and the emergence of a new intellectual awareness

c) Conformity to medical myths

D) The pragmatic attitude

E) Pragmatic attitude as a political bargain

F) Accepting positive deviance: the social value of fighting MGM


I) Circumcision: a general overview

II) Circumcision: for whose interest?

III) Medical doctors and male circumcision

IV) Feminist intellectuals and MGM



Appendix 1: Respondents 

Appendix 2: Questions that were used to steer the discussion about MGM

Appendix 3: The information that I gave to the respondents about the structure and function of the male prepuce


I express my deepest gratitude to my professors in the Sociology-Anthropology Department in the American University in Cairo: Dr. Cynthia Nelson and Dr. Nicholas Hopkins in their encouragement throughout the research. They supervised my progress step by step with deep interest, and gave me their endless fruitful advice and provided me with valuable references. They also encouraged and gave me support without which I could never have completed this work. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the American University in Cairo that gave me a Post-master scholarship, which enabled me to produce this work.

I also thank my friends: Tim Hammond, founder of the National Organization to Halt Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM) for his sincere and 
caring effort in editing the English version of this article and putting it on the Internet, Marilyn Milos, the leader of a call for prevention of MGM in the United States and the founder and director of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), and Sami Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, the director of the Arab and Islamic studies department of the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, who gave me valuable references and constant encouragement throughout my work.

I can not find words to express my gratitude to my friends: Dr. Azza Mohamed Ali, who translated the first three chapters of this research and Amany Abu Zeid, Heba Hagrass, Maged Mahrous who undertook the tedious job of revision of the first drafts of this work and who added to my knowledge with their ideas and practical advice. I would also like to thank Ms. Safaa Abdel Messih and Ms Basma el Hussari for their help with typing the English version.

As for the women and men who responded to my interviews in the fieldwork, giving me their precious time, opening their hearts freely and frankly, and who will remain unknown to the reader, I would like to extend my thanks to each one of them. Without their cooperation and help, I would never have been able to complete this research.


To all the Egyptian pioneers who took the initiative and wrote on the issue of MGM: Mr. Essam Eddin Hefny Nassif, Mr. Mohamed Afifi, Dr. Nawal el Saadawi and Mr. Gamal el Bana.

And to the first men and women who are trying hard to raise the issue of MGM as a gender and childrenís rights issue: Maher Sabry, Maged Mahrous, Haitham Salah, Amal Shafik and Amany Abu Zeid.