FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Curious about Copts? A Wedding Feast for Copts and Islamists

BONUS LINK:  My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here. 

Are you curious about the Copts that you have been hearing about in the news?  

I just finished a paper on Coptic Christianity and its contemporary relevance.  You can read/download it here and I have embedded it below.  I've also included its first and last paragraph in the case that google docs is acting up.

A Wedding Feast for Copts and Islamists

              The state of Egypt has an ancient history—it lays legitimate claim as one of the
cradles of civilization. Throughout its history its soil has been the battleground for the struggle
between political empires, as well as spiritual ones. The Gospel of Matthew relates that it was to
Egypt that Joseph, Mary, and their newborn Jesus escaped and lived for three years after Herod
ordered the execution of all male children under the age of two.1 Nearly 50 years later it was to
Alexandria that Saint Mark the Evangelist traveled to preach the gospel for ten years, birthing
the Coptic Christian faith. The term Copt is itself a derivation of the Greek word for an
inhabitant of Egypt—aiguptos—a word Arab conquerors would translate as qibt—“copt ” in
English.2 The relationship between Islam and Christianity is one that spans back 1500 years. It
is too soon to analyze what the newly elected Islamist government means for the Copts. It is
more fruitful to examine the Coptic history and its intersections with Islam. How has the Coptic
Christian identity evolved since the first century? What is its contemporary relevance? How has
the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt viewed the Coptic population? Is a common Egyptian
identity possible? In this essay I argue that the Coptic Christian identity is rooted in a historical
narrative of dhimmitude that continues to stymie their role in Egypt today. Creating a new
common psychocultural narrative will require the Coptic community to emerge from political
monasticism and the Islamists to broaden their conception of the dhimmah. I begin by
examining the history and etymology of the dhimmi identity at length. Next, I review the
influence of the Arab conquest upon the Coptic population and its faith. Then I analyze the
relationship of the Coptic population to political developments in Egypt’s modern history.
Finally, I offer strategies for Muslim-Christian convergence to effect a new, unifying Egyptian

Conclusion Paragraph: 
        As mentioned earlier, both groups share a common ethnicity that exists beyond a
structuralist definition connecting it to modernization; their ethnicity is a primordial one,
stemming from a sense of shared blood—a psychological glue that binds and distinguishes them
from other Arabs—one that has driven the two groups to make sacrifices for the entire nation
throughout Egypt’s history.57 The gaps then must be closed; divisive symbols such as
identification cards listing religion must be permanently abolished. Dramas such as religious
feasts and parades must be modified and celebrated together.58 Notably both groups must
embrace new approaches to their religious differences. One solution may be in the newly
established Christian Brotherhood. This political group seeks to replace the church as a
democratic mouthpiece for the Coptic population.59 As Morsi’s Coptic advisor Rafiq Habib has
pointed out, a Christian political party will likely have more in common with a conservative
Muslim bloc like the MB on most social issues than the secular parties do. Most Copts and
Islamists certainly espouse similar feelings of antipathy towards Israel and Western intrusion.
Steps such as the recent formation of a political party are important ones that bring the Coptic
community into the public discourse. For most of their history the Copts have allowed the
church to operate as their political interlocutor. Sometimes as a survival mechanism, Copts have
internalized their dhimmitude and too often espoused political monasticism; they have
withdrawn from public discourse and existed passively, depending on the church to represent
them. Emerging from this seclusion will require risks but with the world’s eyes on Egypt they
are well poised to permanently discard their “conquered” dhimmi status. The largest challenge
will be for the Islamists to widen their own dhimmah with God to cover all of their countrymen.
In doing so they may be able to embrace a new future reflective of the dhimmah of a wedding feast and Egypt may one day celebrate the marriage and birth of a new common identity for their country.


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