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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Egyptian Prime Minister Criticized for Soliloquy on \'Ignorant\' Mothers

Arabic-language video of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil blaming infant diarrhea on the unclean breasts of “ignorant” nursing mothers.

With angry protesters challenging the Egyptian government’s grip on strategic cities of the Suez Canal, the army chief warning of the potential “collapse of the state,” violent sexual assault plaguing demonstrations in Tahrir Square and more than 50 deaths in the latest round of street clashes, the nation’s prime minster spoke this week on state television about a social problem that few people saw coming: unclean breasts.

As Al Arabiya English reported, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said: “there are villages in Egypt in the 21st century where children get diarrhea” because, “the mother nurses them and out of ignorance does not undertake personal hygiene of her breasts.”

Mr. Qandil, an agricultural engineer and former water minister, spoke specifically about villages he said he had visited in the rural province of Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo, the capital. Video of the remarks posted on YouTube shows that several male and female listeners appeared uncomfortable as the prime minister spoke.

Women present for the Egyptian Prime Minister's remarks blaming YouTube Women present for the Egyptian Prime Minister’s remarks blaming “ignorant” mothers unclean breasts for diarrhea in nursing infants appeared confused and uncomfortable.

The remarks have sparked controversy online and in Egypt’s raucous Arabic-language media. On Monday night, a talk show host on the independent Tahrir television network, Dina Abdel Fattah, asked her viewers: “can you imagine, an Egyptian prime minister addressing a topic like that, while we have martyrs in the street, we have people being killed every day, e have entire provinces in a state of unrest”

An Egyptian television host, Dina Abdel Fattah, attacked the prime minister for his comments blaming rural women’s personal hygiene for infant diarrhea.

On Twitter, several people agreed that it was odd for the prime minister to broach this subject in the midst of Egypt’s multiple political crises. Others were shocked that Mr. Qandil, who holds a Ph.D from North Carolina State University, would argue that women’s personal hygiene could cause diarrhea.

In the United States, medical consensus says that breastfeeding is in fact beneficial for babies, and few studies appear to have been done on the impact of a mother’s personal hygiene on infant digestion. According to a pamphlet produced by the Office of Women’s Health at the United States Department of Health and Human Sevices, breast milk is “liquid gold,” rich in nutrients and antibodies, with “just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein” to help babies grow.