Egypt is ethnically united to a large extent considering its geographic and demographic size. Throughout the ages, Egypt has been a mixture of bloodlines among the population. Research has shown that foreign influence, outside and within Egypt since the formation of the Egyptian nation in Pharaonic times until now, affects no more than 10 per cent of the population since the beginning of history. As Gamal Hemdan surmised in The Character of Egypt, Egypt is made of mixed lineages but Egyptians are not a mixture of ethnicities.
In fact, the people coming to Egypt were always a small minority and Egyptians were always the vast majority. Colonialist settlements were always the exception not the rule in Egypt, albeit for a limited period during Ancient Greek rule. The number of adult Greeks who lived in Egypt during Ptolemaic times was less than two per cent of the population. The three great migration surges to Egypt were the Hyksos, Jews and Arabs, all of which were Semites and came through Sinai. The first two migration waves were eventually completely repelled after a while, and despite the large numbers of Arabs who flooded Egypt and extensive inter-marriage with Egyptians, this did not alter the basic composition of the population or their bloodline because Arab genes originate from a common source as Egyptians.
It is impossible to estimate the actual percentage of Arab genes in Egyptian blood because it took place over many centuries. The British Egyptologist Flinders Petrie estimates the Arabs who came to Egypt over the centuries to be around 150,000 men and women, although a more accurate figure would be half a million.
Gustave Le Bon writes inTheFirst Civilisations: “Many peoples invaded Egypt but the country was able to absorb all these conquerors … These invaders were unable to alter the country, except for the Arabs. Nonetheless, Egypt remained a descendant of the Pharaohs.” In his bookAnthropological Studies in East Africa,Shanter states: “The land of the Nile Valley was able to absorb almost all foreign forms and elements.”
In his book Social Life in Ancient Egypt, Petrie notes that the “Egyptian nation” is “a hard-working serious people which is weakened every few hundred years — which is expected — and the country is invaded. But [the people] maintain their national identity and characteristics and distinct personality.”
Hemdan adds, most perceptively, that modern Egypt does not know religious extremism or sectarian discrimination, and the situation of the Copts was never uncomfortable. It is on the record that neither during the French invasion nor the Orabi Revolution, as witnessed by Al-Nadeem, was there any clashes or tensions. As for the 1919 Revolution, it was a symbol of national unity, and anyone who says otherwise is an agitator working against Egypt’s interests. Anyone can see this eloquently and pragmatically by looking at the country’s architectural landscape, where church towers distinctly penetrate the sky and their concentration far outnumbers the Coptic population itself.
Various colonial powers attempted to drive a sectarian wedge or incite the issue of minorities among the population to undermine national unity. This happened during the French invasion, British occupation and even Israeli Zionism. It is a fact, and officially acknowledged that the policy of “divide and rule” has failed, whereby sects clash or are furtively manipulated against each other to believe in threats and imaginary conspiracies against them by the other.
The position of the Copts in opposition to colonialist strategies was very constructive, and they rejected any attempts or temptations or plots by the British colonialists to offer them protection. While some Muslims sided with the Turks in this ploy, and some Copts sided with the British, these were not acts of betrayal but rather based in ignorance. They were not acts lacking in loyalty but lacking in knowledge. “Islam did not stop Turkey and Christianity did not stop the British from treating Egypt unjustly through occupation then exploitation, obstruction and oppression,” states Nemat Fouad in Rewrite History.
Egypt’s response to colonialist duplicity was magnificent in the 1919 Revolution, and later they played a honourable role in the liberation wars and the October War. Although some “unfortunate incidents” took place during these periods of resistance, these were individual acts that were marginal and did not contradict the general rule, but confirmed it. Most of them did not occur out of bad intentions but bad information, or complete ignorance. For example, after the June defeat there was an angry cry of “return to the Arab deserts where you came from!” meaning the Muslims, as mentioned by Hemdan. I add to this the shameless ignorant claims by those seeking a religious state that “Egyptian Copts are only guests of the Muslims in Egypt, not co-citizens.”
A category of Egyptians is proud that the monarchy had Turkish roots, while others boast their Arab roots, and the ignorant compete over whether they are migrants or guests. Those working to undermine national unity want to highlight ethnic differences, but there is one truth that remains since Egypt’s borders were demarcated during Pharaonic times between Rafah and Halfa. This truth is what makes the Egyptian nation: “Egyptians are all those who settled in Egypt, merged with it and made it their permanent home.”