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Regime-Church-Copts: A State-Society Approach

The state-society approach is the ideal way to analyze the regime-church-Copts relationship introduced above. Theoretical treatments of state-society relations discern five main steps or stages that transform these relations. First, the theory posits a state that manifests Thomas Hobbes’s emphasis on the importance of the national state as a tool to control society and protect it from the “war of all against all.” Second, it posits a secular state that aims to abolish differences and spread societal homogeneity. Third, it posits a state that recognizes diversity and thus encourages the revival or survival of different cultures and identities. Fourth, it posits the retreating state, which witnesses the rise of primordial and sectarian powers. Fifth, it calls on the concept of “mutual empowerment,” as described by Joel Migdal,8 in which the state is a part of society and any governing regime— democratic or autocratic—cannot be isolated from its society.

Accordingly, the more the state is in retreat, the more it experiences the forces of separation and disintegration. It is at this intersection of retreat and separation that religion often surfaces as a social fact,9 bringing people together in organizations that have political influence, but also becoming a source of political and social conflict at the same time. Hence, in order to analyze the regime- church-Copts relation, key variables must be considered.10 First, the structure of the community within the state is significant: If Copts are regarded as the largest Christian sect, their religious leader could potentially be regarded as a rival to the state. A powerful church leadership makes it difficult for the state to challenge it, which forces the state to adopt a policy of rapprochement backed up by repression if necessary. Alternatively, if different sects of the same religion exist, it is less likely that the state will perceive the religion as a threat.

Second, the structure of the Christian community as a whole in relation to the rest of society is also important. In states like Egypt that exhibit a clear majority-minority divide, Christians are inclined to perceive themselves as more vulnerable to changes that take place within the majority community. However, the existence of other minority groups can offer the minority community some space to articulate its concerns. Third, church-state relations are affected by both regime policies toward the presence of the Christian community and perceptions held by Christians regarding the impact of these policies on their security.

Fourth, there is the security problem. The church is faced with the dilemma of whether to defend the communal rights of its followers or exercise selfcensorship, given that the regime is the ultimate provider of its security. Correspondingly, if this guarantee of protection is not fulfilled, it is more likely that church leaders will be outspoken on particular issues.

Finally, the existence of competitors within the community can influence the activities of the church, often resulting in a desire for a close relationship with the state in order to secure patronage, or a distance between the state and the community.

 
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