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The Copts: more Christian than Egyptian?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The Copts: a purely and proudly Egyptian history
  3. Religious renewal: a key factor of tension
  4. Conclusion- reconciliation efforts and new challenges

While it is true that the Middle East is an incredibly diverse area as far as religion is concerned, the Copts represent within Egypt a particular case. Indeed, although today they only represent 10% of the population , Christians claim themselves descendants of the people of ancient Egypt, and thus, true Egyptians. The relationship between Muslims and Christians has changed throughout the centuries, and has often been difficult. However, the resemblance between traditions, and a common culture have also allowed an overall peaceful coexistence.

Under the Ottoman Empire, as other non-Muslim communities, the Copts belonged to the Ahl el-Dhimma until 1855, when Sa'id Pacha - Muhammad ?Ali's son- abolished this category. Ten years later, they would be recruited in the army and enter the consultative council. The gradual independence from the Ottoman Empire represented a golden opportunity for the Copts to gain importance, participate in the new state, and get rid of the old categories. Since the mid-19th Century, not only Egyptians, but also the Middle East as a whole has been compelled to favor either the Egyptians' genuine patriotism or to keep religious cohesion and solidarity. However, for the Copts' unique characteristics, the Egyptian case seems both singular, and, unfortunately, unnoticed.

The aim of this paper is to analyze, from a historical point of view, the evolution of the Copts' position in Egyptian society. We will first look at how the Copts form a particular Christian community in the Middle East. Then we will examine their role in the construction and establishment of Egyptian nationalism. In a following moment we will look at the current and past frictions between this religious group and their Muslim counterpart.

[...] A., Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity, Le Caire, The American University in Cairo Press, 1999 [5] Mayer-Jaouen and Voile, Op. Cit., 2003 [6] Chabry, L., Politique et minorités au Proche-Orient : les raisons d'une explosion, Paris, Maisonneuve et Larose, 1984 [7] Mayer-Jaouen and Voile, Op. Cit., 2003 [8] Chabry, L., Op. Cit., 1984 [9] Idris Jalal, S. ?Le Caire sans les Coptes? in Outre-Terre n. 12, 2005 [10] Idris Jalal, S. Op. Cit., 2005 [11] Egyptian Constitutional Declaration, http://www.cabinet.gov.eg/AboutEgypt/ConstitutionalDeclaration_e.pdf (21/09/2011) [12] Ettmueller, E. [...]


[...] The rumor that Christians may be kidnapping young Muslim girls only added to the collective hate. 1992 will be remembered as one of the bloodiest years in contemporary history of violence between the two communities: 22 Christians were killed and 285 were wounded.[14] Furthermore, the massacre of Al-Koshh in 2000 underlined the passivity of authorities and the police towards the increasing wave of confessional violence. The Virgin apparitions the same year in Asyut, were interpreted as a sign of fervor and uneasiness within the Coptic population. [...]

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