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Copts at the Crossroads

Copts at the Crossroads: The Challenges of Building Inclusive Democracy in Egypt

Mariz Tadros
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Copts at the Crossroads
    Book Description:

    In the light of the escalation of sectarian tensions during and after Mubarak’s reign, the predicament of the Arab world’s largest religious minority, the Copts, has come to the forefront. This book poses such questions as why there has been a mass exodus of Copts from Egypt, and how this relates to other religious minorities in the Arab region; why it is that sectarian violence increased during and after the 2011 Revolution, which epitomized the highest degree of national unity since 1919; and how the new configuration of power has influenced the extent to which a vision of a political order is being based on the principles of inclusive democracy. The book examines the relations among the state, the Church, Coptic citizenry, and civil and political societies against the backdrop of the increasing diversification of actors, the change of political leadership in the country, and the transformations occurring in the region. An informative historical background is provided, and new fieldwork and statistical data inform a thoughtful exploration of what it takes to build an inclusive democracy in post-Mubarak Egypt.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-358-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A Future of Crescent without Cross?
    (pp. 1-22)

    This is the end of sectarianism in Egypt: from now on there will be no more conflict between Muslims and Christians. Or so some who participated in the 25 January Revolution in 2011 that led to the ousting of President Mubarak believed. The lifting of the Crescent and Cross high in the sky, the Qur’an and the Bible, the hymns and Friday prayers, were all compared to the 1919 Egyptian revolution against British colonial rule, that other historical juncture celebrated by Egyptians as the apex of national unity.

    Yet the high hopes that the ousting of an authoritarian leader would...

  6. 1 The Copts of Egypt
    (pp. 23-44)

    The word ‘Copt’ derives from the Greek wordAigyptos, meaning ‘Egyptian.’ Until the Arab conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, the word ‘Copt’ meant ‘Egyptian,’ which was synonymous with the word ‘Christian,’ since it was the religion of the majority of the Egyptian populace at the time. The Arabs subsequently used the wordQibt(Arabic for ‘Copt’) to refer to the inhabitants of the Nile Valley (Hassan 2003:17).

    Many Arab and Muslim scholars have devoted considerable attention to the study of the Copts and their origins and history, including Ibn al-Kandi (n.d.), al-Mas‘udi (1916; 2005), Abul Ja‘far (AH 1407),...

  7. 2 Overview of Sectarian Incidents (2008–2011)
    (pp. 45-60)

    This chapter provides an overview of the frequency, type, and geographical location of sectarian incidents, their triggers, their salience, and the actors involved in them, between 2008 and 2011. The purpose of the chapter is to capture nuances and highlight patterns of sectarian dynamics. More detailed and micro-level analysis of sectarianism is presented in chapter 5 with respect to incidents that occurred during the Mubarak era, while chapter 7 applies the same level of analysis to the first year of the post-Mubarak transitional phase. It is important to note that the database available (see pages 17–18) pertains to sectarian...

  8. 3 The Patriarch–President Pact and the People in Between
    (pp. 61-82)

    This chapter uncovers the historical emergence of the Coptic Orthodox Church as the mediator of relations between Coptic citizenry and the state in the 1950s, the impact of which has continued to influence the political scene some sixty years later, during the post-Mubarak era. The chapter argues that an entente was forged in the 1950s between the Church leadership and the state’s political leadership that provided the Church with certain concessions in return for its political allegiance to the regime. Such an entente may have given the Church leadership room for maneuver vis-à-vis wider Egyptian society, but it severely constrained...

  9. 4 The Politics of Backroom Vendettas: The State Security Investigations Apparatus versus the Coptic Church Leadership
    (pp. 83-96)

    Inal-Karamanewspaper’s edition of 2 August 2010 is a highly revealing article that encapsulates the nature of Church–state–Coptic citizenry relations toward the end of Mubarak’s regime.¹ The article describes how then Minister of Interior Habib al-Adli presented a memorandum to Ahmad Nazif, then prime minister, on the rise in the number of Coptic protests driven by “petty reasons” and insisted that the persistence of such a trend could lead to heightened sectarian incidents and strife—a situation that the state could not tolerate.

    The memorandum, which was prepared by the SSI, highlighted that “most recently, a number...

  10. 5 Mitigation, Management, and Resolution of Sectarianism under Mubarak
    (pp. 97-118)

    This chapter examines the escalation of violence against the Christian minority in particular during the last decade of the Mubarak era. It examines the causes of conflict between Muslims and Christians, what precipitates hostilities, how incidents are managed, and how they are settled. The first part of the chapter presents three case studies of sectarian assault, all occurring in 2010–2011. These are presented in the chronological order of their unfolding: first, the Nag‘ Hammadi incident, which points to collective assault on Copts specifically on the basis of their religious affiliation; second, the Camillia Shehata saga, which points to the...

  11. 6 Against All Odds: The Copts in the 25 January Revolution
    (pp. 119-138)

    This chapter examines the nature of Copts’ participation in the uprisings that led to the ousting of President Mubarak. Generalizations about Coptic citizens are avoided in view of the diversity of their political orientations and socio-economic backgrounds. However, this chapter seeks to identify some underlying patterns of engagement, recurring issues, and perspectives and interpretations of how the agency of Coptic citizens was exercised. I argue that while there were many precursors to the 25 January uprisings, political, social, and economic, the Coptic-led protests that followed the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day in 2011...

  12. 7 The Beginning of the End of the Tahrir Spirit
    (pp. 139-160)

    President Mubarak’s ouster offered the hope for many Muslims and Christians that sectarian relations would be improved. This sprang from a number of important developments: the power and spirit of Tahrir Square, the leaking of security sources that indicated that the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria had been the work of the SSI, and the absence of reported assaults against Christian property during the eighteen days of the uprisings. Throughout January–March 2011, public opinion was very much in favor of the argument that Mubarak’s regime was sectarianism’s main driver and that its removal would lead to...

  13. 8 Coptic Protest and Copts in Protest
    (pp. 161-182)

    From the mid-2000s up to the 25 January Revolution and during the transition, a significant proportion of Egyptian citizens engaged in a level of political activism unprecedented in the prior half century of the country’s history. In particular, from 25 January onward, the street gained new significance as people—spontaneously and in organized groups—went out to voice their grievances and demand their rights. It was as if Egyptian society had become highly politicized overnight. This chapter provides insight into some of the dynamics of Copts’ mobilization around particular grievances. I choose, however, to differentiate between Coptic protests and Copts...

  14. 9 Egypt’s Bloody Sunday and Its Ripple Effects
    (pp. 183-200)

    The Maspero Massacre, which resulted in the death of between twenty-seven and forty civilians and the injury of over three hundred others, represents a critical moment in the history of Egypt’s political transition from authoritarian rule. It reflected the single worst assault by an Egyptian ruling authority against a non-Muslim minority in modern Egyptian history. It also led to heightened tensions between the Coptic civil movement and the Church leadership over the management of sectarian assault. Moreover, instead of having the impact of thwarting all Coptic resistance movements, it spawned the creation of new ones. Finally, it marked the beginning...

  15. 10 The Copts’ Islamist Experience
    (pp. 201-218)

    There is a growing body of literature on the position of Islamists toward the Coptic question (Tadros 2012a; Scott 2010; Fawzi 2009; Morcos 2006a; Ali 2005). Much of this scholarship focuses on Islamists’ perspectives on the position of non-Muslim minorities in Egypt, and their rights and duties in an Islamic state as conceived by Islamists. Some of this literature was written against the backdrop of the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing participation in formal political life in the 2005 parliamentary elections and the underlying question of the positioning of Copts should they come to power. The literature often focused on Islamists’ ideas...

  16. 11 Winning for God: Sectarianism in the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
    (pp. 219-234)

    The parliamentary and presidential elections that followed the 25 January Revolution were supposed to be milestones on Egypt’s path to democratization. While many of the ills of the elections witnessed during Mubarak’s regime were also witnessed in the transitional phase, such as vote buying, rotating votes, and the violation of publicity rules as well as ceilings on campaign funding, one of the most striking characteristics of these two elections was that they were among the most intensely sectarian witnessed in Egypt’s history. This chapter examines ways in which religion was instrumentalized in these elections, their implications for different actors, and...

  17. Conclusion: Walking next to the Wall, inside the Wall, and away from the Wall
    (pp. 235-250)

    InHassan and Morcos, a highly acclaimed film about Muslim–Christian relations in Egypt, featuring prominent actors Omar Sharif (playing the Muslim Hassan) and Adel Imam (playing the Christian Morcos), there are two scenes in particular that are laden with humor and very telling about the state of Christian–Muslim affairs. Since the film script has been published (Mo’aty 2008: 17), it is worthwhile quoting the relevant parts:¹

    Scene 5

    Strict security procedures surrounding a large building; we see police cars and central security forces surrounding the building. The camera angle rises to show us a sign—“the 51st conference...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 251-264)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-274)
  20. Index
    (pp. 275-282)