Africa Review – There’s been an uproar and mass derision over recent comments by Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Qandil that ‘dirty breasts’ were the reason for the poor health of babies.
The PM made the outlandish claims during a televised discussion with journalists on poverty, saying that nursing mothers, “out of ignorance”, don’t clean their breasts, resulting in the outbreak of diarrhoea in a number of rural areas.
Mr Qandil claimed he had personally witnessed children suffering from the illness immediately after being breastfed as the mothers hadn’t “cleaned themselves properly”.
The backlash has been swift and strong, with many saying the Prime Minister was not only out of his depth, but also “holds elitist and patriarchal attitudes that blame poor women for everything from not bringing their children up right, to bringing dishonour on society”.
A lawsuit has also been filed by a group of lawyers from the town of Beni Suif, one of the provinces Mr Qandil mentioned by name, accusing the PM of slander and that he insulted the city’s female residents.
Mr Qandil’s statements were in response to questions that economic policies were increasing poverty in the country and how the dire situation played a part in the continuing surge of unrest in the country.
“In the 21st Century, there are still villages in Egypt where babies are infected with diarrhoea … because their mothers nursing them, out of their ignorance, don’t do the personal hygiene of cleaning their breasts,” Mr Qandil said.
“Egypt is full of miseries,” he added and that “the solution is not in violence.”
The 50-year-old Qandil has a PhD in in biological and agricultural engineering with a minor in water resources from the US, and was the former minister of Water Resources.
However, this is not the first bizarre faux pas by him; last year during the mass power shortages that hit the country he suggested Egyptians “wear cotton clothes and sit in one room to cut down on air conditioner”.
His time in office has been riddled with incidents and attacks; he was chased out of a mosque without his shoes by angry mourners following the killing of 16 soldiers in Sinai by militants near the border with Gaza, while only last week, protesters pelted him with pieces of concrete and rocks when he attempted to enter Tahrir Square.