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Copts’ Role in Modern Egypt

Mai Mogib Mosad

One of the distinctive subthemes of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, has been the proliferation of Coptic political participation in the country. Christian movements and political participation had largely, though not entirely, been guided by the church during the Mubarak era. During the January 25 “revolution,” Christian Egyptians joined their Muslim counterparts as “one hand” to challenge state authorities in pursuit of “freedom, bread, social justice and human dignity.” After successfully deposing the former president, many of these Christian Egyptians continued on with their revolutionary ambitions.

For years Copts presented their demands to the state primarily through the person of Pope Shenouda. When pressed to demonstrate for their demands, either by events or by clergy, they did so mostly within the confines of church walls. The revolution changed this equation, however, and the unity expressed in overthrowing Mubarak gave Copts a new sense of participation in rebuilding Egypt. Some Christian participation remained along the lines of revolutionary values, enveloped fully in the youth movements that populated Tahrir Square. Others began sensing a threat to their full participation from the emergence and ascendency of Islamists groups, and rallied behind a liberal and civil cause. Still others took the opportunities afforded to them by the revolution to organize and demonstrate for particular Coptic issues.1

Regardless of these differences, newly arisen variables influenced the position of Copts in contemporary Egypt: the rise of political Islamist tendencies, the frequent sectarian clashes and incidents, the church’s retreat from political affairs, the politics of the new pope and Egypt’s newly elected president Mohammed Morsi, and, finally, the Copts’ participation in the June 30 demonstrations and its impact on both the political and social circumstances of Coptic society and the Copts’ relationship with the newly elected president.

This chapter seeks to analyze the triangular relationship between the regime, the church, and the Copts. This triangular relationship helps in understanding the position of Copts before and after the so-called revolution and in uncovering the key factors that influenced these three actors after January 25. Among the factors to consider are how this triangular relationship was framed by the media, the impact of the relationship on the Coptic community as a whole, and the governing regime’s approach to the Copts as a single, homogeneous bloc represented by the pope. This chapter discusses the prerevolutionary history of the regime-church-Copts relationship, traces its development after the fall of Mubarak, and examines the current factors and events that influence such an interrelated and complicated rapport.

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