Twenty-four-year-old Layla’s nose is hidden under a telltale white bandage. Her friend Nihal, also 24, keeps touching her “new chin,” as she calls it, still sensitive from cosmetic surgery months ago.
Both young women, who declined to provide their last names, did not rush into “impulse surgery,” as Layla explains; instead they spent months researching clinics in Cairo and persuading their hesitant families.
“All my friends have had nose jobs, and I went to a surgeon that I knew was good,” Layla said, “because 10 of my friends had gone to him and their noses look perfect!”
The quest for perfection has made plastic surgery a lucrative business in Egypt in recent years, a boom that medical experts attribute to increasing exposure to the West and the popular Egyptian entertainment business.
In an August 22, 2008 article in the Daily News Egypt, cosmetic surgeon Dr. Ashraf Metwally claims the number of breast augmentation surgeries he has performed has increased from just two in 2007 to 45 in 2008.
“There has definitely been a boom,” he said. “Breasts are every woman’s most precious asset.”
Layla believes the increasing popularity of Lebanese singers in Egypt is spurring the demand for surgery.
“Before Lebanese singers like Nancy Agram came along, we never saw anyone young who has had surgery,” she said. “It was always old ladies. But then she came along with a perfect nose, and we realised that it’s OK to do it when you’re young.”
“Many girls wish to look like their favourite singer, actress or model, who may have had breast implants themselves,” psychiatrist Dr. Hala Hammad told the Daily News Egypt.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Fathy Khodeir believes that the increasing social pressure on young women to marry may be to blame.
“[In] the clinic of a plastic surgeon,” he told Islam Online for a February 22, 2006 article, “you’ll find girls who have been brought in by their parents because they feel that their daughter needs to do something about her looks in order to get married.”
While Egyptian society has become more accepting of plastic surgery, there still remains a social mindset that it is a waste of money to “fix something which is not broken.”
“The only reason my mother let me have the surgery is because the doctor said I had a blocked nasal passage,” said Layla. “She told all her friends that it was corrective surgery, because she felt that would be more acceptable.”
Muslim scholars have criticised the increase in cosmetic surgeries, which they claim is the result of the influence of Western materialistic civilisation.
Prominent Muslim cleric Yousuf Al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa that undergoing procedures to have one’s body parts reshaped contradicts Islamic beliefs.
“It means an unnecessary change of the form God has created,” he was quoted in a January 13, 2007 Gulf News article.
The increased demand for plastic surgery has led to the emergence of some beauty centres offering low-priced surgeries without qualified doctors.
“With this surge, many bogus centres have gotten into the field,” plastic surgeon Dr. Mahmoud Attallah told Al-Ahram Weekly in a September 24, 2003 article. “[T]hey are offering cheap prices to people who are unaware of the negative consequences of such operations.”
In 2003, Al-Ahram Weekly reported that the deaths of two women undergoing liposuction operations sparked state investigations, leading the Egyptian Ministry of Health to shut down 1,000 unlicensed private clinics.
However, Dr. Alaa Gheita, the head of Egyptian Society for Plastic Surgery, believes that more should be done to tackle the issue.
“What we need is a very strong law that prohibits the work of these suspicious centres,” Gheita told Al-Ahram Weekly. “It should also stipulate very severe punishments, because any mistake here means the death of a patient.”
Nonetheless, doctors like Metwally remain confident that the demand for surgery will continue, and patients such as Layla will keep coming back.
“I believe more and more people will undergo some form of plastic surgery in the years to come as it becomes more acceptable,” Metwally said.
As for Layla, she is considering cosmetic surgery on her chin.