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FEMME COPTE (COPTIC WOMAN) – A POSTCARD FROM 1899 AND WHAT IT TELLS US

July 17, 2012

Figure 1: Femme Copte – an old postal card from 1899 (by Comptoir Philatélique d’Egypte, Alexandrie).

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The Copts adopted Islamic costumes with time after the Arab occupation of Egypt in 641 AD – yet another example of Islamic culturalisation of the Copts, which we ought to have prevented in the first place by defending our national independence.

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This is an old postal card from 1899, published in Alexandria, Egypt, by Comptoir Philatélique d’Egypte, Alexandrie. That was when Egypt was being ruled by the British since 1882 only, and Sir Evelyn Baring (1883 – 1907) was Consuls-General and Britain’s Chief Representative. The Albanian (Ottoman) Khedive was Abbas Helmi II (1892 – 1914); and the Coptic Patriarch was Cyril V (1874 – 1928).

I am not putting up this picture of the young Coptic woman (femme Copte) from the late 19th century for its photographic value, or simply for its beauty, but to point to the Islamic culturalisation (assimilation) of the Copts. The woman is wearing the traditional Islamic attire of the time, including the long veil. Now, there is nothing Christian or intrinsically (originally) Christian about this excessive covering of the body – it has got nothing to do with modesty (إحتشام) or chastity (عِفّة), but everything to do with fear and control of women by men, which is an Islamic tradition based on religion. We have seen, in previous posts, some of the effects of having fallen under the influence of Islam on our costumes, customs and morals – a process which we termed Islamic culturalisation (التذويبالإسلامي), when Copts, as individuals or collectively, consciously or subconsciously, abandon their traditions, customs, behaviours, etc. – or in one word their culture – and acquire parts of Islamic culture to which influence they are exposed.[1]This hatefulprocess of assimilation to a foreign culture, once it is in place, it is always associated with a simultaneous secondary process of alienation from one’s own culture. With time the foreign borrowing becomes adopted as one’s own tradition, and becomes defended as such, with religious and moral arguments being put forward to justify its continued practice. We have seen that, for instance, with circumcision, which isn’t intrinsically Christian or Coptic but has been taken by the Copts from the ruling and dominant Muslim society since the Middle Ages, and defended by some Coptic lay and ecclesiastic leaders.[2] These adopted foreign customs, including those related to costume, do not usually last, and can easily be made to end once times change and the adopting society gets educated as to their foreign origin that finds no backing from one’s own original culture.

With the start of the 20th century the Copts, and even before it, the Copts abandoned the wearing of the veil. Many Muslim women did the same but always later, and often relapsing to it, as we see now.


[1] Although the process is in the last analysis brought about by force and violence from the foreign rulers, it is adopted by the subdued culture. The focus is on the ruled rather than the rulers, since only the ruled can decide to get rid of foreign culture – it is eventually all in our hands; and such is the teaching of Coptic nationalists.

[2] See our series: Circumcision and the Copts – a History; Part I, II, and III. More of it will follow. The reader can access the three parts at:

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/circumcision-and-the-copts-a-history-part-1/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/circumcision-and-the-copts-a-history-part-ii/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/circumcision-and-the-copts-a-history-part-iii/

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