Books not to miss this book fair - Copts in Modern Egypt

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 23 Jan 2020

With the inauguration of the Cairo International Book Fair (22 January-4 February), Ahram Online offers a series of recommendations for avid readers


El-Aqbat fi Misr El-Hadithah (Copts in Modern Egypt – Part I), by Ghada Mohamed, (Cairo: El-Maraya), 2018.

In one of the most detailed accounts of the history of Coptic grievance, researcher Ghada Mohamed brings to the limelight the failure of the subsequent regimes of Modern Egypt -- from the rule of Mohamed Ali in 1805 to the end of the rule of Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1970 -- to address the roots of the "Coptic issue".

In the first volume that essentially looks at citizenship issues of Egyptian Copts in the past 200 years, Mohamed argues that despite the accumulated gains that the Copts made since the rule of Mohamed Ali, on the socio-economic level or within the executive system, they had never truly overcome their status as Dhimmis -- those who were under Muslim rule or the oppressed Egyptians under Roman rule.

Throughout the subsequent centuries, Mohamed detailed, Copts had to pay for being Copts – sometimes literally and metaphorically.

There were varying degrees of marginalisation, discrimination and persecution; and there were moments of deliberate sectarian targeting and moments of peaceful coexistence, Mohamed argued.

This was the case under and after subsequent Muslim rulers until the advent of Mohamed Ali to Egypt and Said Pasha, who lifted the Dhimmis regulations. The rule of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, from the mid-1950s to the 1970s saw a particular decline of active anti-Coptic sentiments.

Mohamed is even willing to contest what she finds to be an exaggerated assessment of a total state of fairness among all Egyptians in the "liberal decades", from the early 1920s and until 1952.

In these decades, she argued, Copts could speak up and protest against unfairness but they still were not fully treated like Muslims.

The only brief moment in history when Copts and Muslims were almost equal was during 1919 Revolution, Mohamed argues. The decade that followed, she wrote, was one when all Egyptians worked to secure a common goal: national independence. However, she further added, as this goal was defeated, this rare moment of almost uncontested unity among all Egyptians receded.

The first volume of Copts in Modern Egypt also examines the impact of the beginning of political Islamism, with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1920s, on the state of Copts, including the creation of radical Coptic entities and the expanding role of the Church at the expense of secular Coptic bodies.

It also examines the impact of the rise of pan-Arabism, something that Copts would not necessarily immediately subscribe to, unlike the Christians of the Levant, on the "Coptic issue".

In many ways, Mohamed’s book, in 170 pages, is an interesting read on the concerns of Copts, who were estimated to constitute six percent of the Egyptian population according to a 1986 survey.


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