From an article in the Wilson Quarterly:
In Egypt, the practice of female genital mutilation spans millennia, dating back to the pharaohs. In 2005, a United Nations report found that 97 percent of Egyptian females between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone one of four types of genital mutilation—clitoridectomy, excision, infibulations, or the miscellaneous pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, or cauterizing of the genital area. The practice is cultural rather than religious in origin, more African than Middle Eastern. Many Christian girls in Egypt have also been genitally mutilated.
It includes the story of a 24 year old woman who was mutilated herself and who then tried to prevent it from happening to her female relatives:
In 2006, when she was 24, Ziada had a long debate with an uncle about her seven-year-old cousin Shaimaa, the family’s youngest female child.
“We talked most of the night. He was shocked at the blunt discussion,” she recalled. “I told him that he had no right to circumcise her. I said I’d cut off Shaimaa’s finger if he went through with it. He looked at me with surprise and said that would ruin her life—and I said, ‘Now you get it.’ I thought I’d lost. But he called me the next day and said I’d convinced him. That’s when I realized I could do things, because I had been able to save someone,” she said. “I decided to see what else I could do.”
The greatest wave of empowerment in the early 21st century has produced a new political chic. It has been shaped by conditions conspicuously ripe for unrest. A youth bulge altered the generational balance of power. Rising literacy spurred aspirations beyond daily survival, especially among women. And new technology tools—cheap cell phones with video capabilities, Internet access, social media, and some 500 independent satellite channels launched since 1996—gave ordinary Arabs a larger sense of the world and then allowed them to connect at a crucial juncture.
I think this is ultimately how nearly all human progress takes place, by cultural evolution rather than by war. The word “empowerment” is often used in an irritating, shallow manner, but it can also have real meaning. This is exactly why the totalitarian leader of North Korea keeps such a tight lid on cultural exchanges and tries to keep the rest of the world out, because he knows that the most powerful tool against repression is exposure to the lives of others who are more free.