CAIRO — It was an outrageous argument, by any measure: Women should “reduce their sexual desires” because Egyptian men are “sexually weak.”

This is what an Egyptian lawmaker, Elhamy Agina, claimed over the weekend in making an argument in favor of female genital mutilation or FGM.

“We are a population whose men suffer from sexual weakness, which is evident because Egypt is among the biggest consumers of sexual stimulants that only the weak will consume,” Agina said, according to a translation in Egyptian Streets, an English-language local news website. “If we stop FGM, we will need strong men and we don’t have men of that sort.”

So it is better for women, he continued, to undergo the brutal practice to “reduce a woman’s sexual appetite.” And by doing so, he added, women would “stand by their men” and life would proceed smoothly.

Of course, this led to a maelstrom on Twitter and other online sites.

The centuries-old practice involves the partial or full removal of the external sex organs, usually with a knife or razor blade, in a belief that doing so reduces sexual desires. The cutting can lead to urinary infections, menstrual problems, infertility and death, in addition to psychological trauma.

The practice was banned in Egypt in 2008. Since then, circumcising girls has been punishable by a prison sentence of between three months and three years as well as a hefty fine. Still, FGM remains a widespread practice here, as it is in many other African nations and parts of the Middle East.

According to the World Health Organization, Egypt has some of the highest rates of FGM, in company with Somalia, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. A UNICEF study in 2013 found that as many as 27.2 million women in Egypt have been circumcised.

The Egyptian cabinet recently approved a draft law that would impose stiffer penalties for those who force girls and women into FGM. Jail terms would range between five and seven years, and harsher sentences would be imposed if the procedure leads to death or deformity. In May, an Egyptian teenager died of complications after undergoing FGM, propelling the United Nations to urge Egypt to enact stricter punishments. The new legislation is awaiting ratification by the parliament before it can become law.

By this week, Agina was backtracking on his comments. In one local newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm, or the Egyptian Today, he clarified that his rejection of the toughening of penalties for FGM was based on how "it is hard to apply in Egypt."

And in a phone interview with TV host Eman Ezzuldine on Mehwar Channel that his comments were to be considered only a "jest."

"I don't get afraid, and I meant no offense to Egyptian men," Agina continued. "Egyptian men are true men, and I am a true man."

"Take my wife's phone number and ask her," he added.

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