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June 25, 2019

Egypt flag

Egypt’s flag was not made with any consideration for the Copts. In fact it alienates them from the Egyptian state. It refers to Arab identity, and in this sense it is difficult to accept that it represents the Copts as it represents the Arabs of Egypt.

Egypt’s current flag goes back in its basic structure to the coup of Colonel Nasser on 23 July 1952, the so-called July Egyptian Revolution. It is called the Egyptian revolutionary and liberation flag. Its current form was adopted in 1984. The coup’s Arabism is largely symbolised in it. It is a tricolour made of the three equal horizontal bars in red, white, and black, and it bears in its centre (in the white bar) the eagle of Saladin (Al-Nasir Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi), the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty in 1171, who has been taken by the Egyptian Muslims as their national hero because he managed to defeat the Crusaders and recapture the city of Jerusalem in the 12th century. Saladin’s eagle has become Egypt’s national emblem.

It is said that the red bar symbolizes the Egyptians’ blood in the war against colonization; the white bar the purity of the Egyptian’s heart; the black bar, below the white, the manner in which darkness is overcome. This seems to be a new interpretation: the original interpretation is that red refers to bloodshed in numerous wars, white to abolition of the monarchy, and black should commemorate the monarchy and the period of British colonialism. Saladin’s eagle faces the hoist-side, and it is represented holding a shield composed of three parts on his chest: the side ones are black while the central one is yellow. And for good measure, the eagle is made to stands above a panel that reads “جمهورية مصر العربية”, which means “The Arab Republic of Egypt”.

Its heavy tinge of Arabic nationalism was not lost to other Arab countries, and so many adopted its basic structure, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan, with little differences.

This is through and through a flag by the Arabs of Egypt for the Arabs of Egypt, and is in complete denial of the existence of the Copts and the Nuba who do not share in Arab identity or nationalism, who do not like the adjective Arab attached to the Republic of Egypt, and who do not necessarily celebrate Saladin or his eagle. It is rude to say the least, and it cannot but alienate the Copts. A country’s flag must represent all and not one nationality within the multi-national state. Better still to use symbols that are do not alienate some of the country’s major components.


June 25, 2019

Greek flag

Many countries and nations have beautiful flags but there is nothing like the Greek in its symbolism and meaning. The current national flag of Greece was adopted in 1979 but its history goes to the Greek War of Independence, as it was first adopted, in a slightly different form, by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus on 13 January 1822, and is generally referred to as the “azure-white” or “blue-white” flag.

It is made of nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white, and in the upper hoist-side corner it has a blue canton bearing a white cross. It has a ratio of 2:3. The nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος (Freedom or Death)”: the five blue stripes for the five syllables of “Ελευθερία” and the four white stripes for the syllables of “ή Θάνατος”. It is also thought that the nine stripes represent the letters of the word “freedom (Ελευθερία)” in Greek.The cross symbolises Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The choice of blue and white in the colours of the flag is based on the colours of the Greek sky and sea.

The Greeks are clever, and by using colour, number of stripes and the white cross, they could symbolically say a lot. It is a flag that is to be admired for its great symbolism, and which the Copts can identify with to a large extent: Faith and freedom, or better death. The Greeks wanted to hoist a flag which says they would die for their faith and freedom. Their history is encoded in it.


June 24, 2019

When the minds are ready, the circumstances are ripe, and the time is opportune, national changes happen; and what had been considered in the past impossible becomes possible.

Greece revolution.jpg

Bishop Germanos blessing the flag at the Monastery Agia Lavra by the Greek painter Theodoros Vryzakis, 1865


The Greek’s bondage to the Ottoman Turks lasted for nearly four centuries. There could be no more brutal and savage imperialists than the Turks. Through massacres and terror they managed to subdue the proud Greeks for centuries, but in 1821 the Greeks bravely revolted against their foreign and cruel occupiers in what is known as the Greek War of Independence (1821 – 1832). Nations may submit to brutal force by foreign aggressors but great nations, whenever the time is opportune and the circumstances are ripe, revolt against their occupiers and oppressors. And this is what Greece had done; and free peoples around the world, particularly in Europe, stood in awe of the gallantry of the Greek people, and hoped that the land of Homer and Socrates, the land which was (and still is) Christian, could kick the fanatic Turks out and see achieve national idependence. But while free peoples supported the Greeks with weapons and funds and gave them moral support, and some, such as Lord Byron,[1] even fought with them against the Turks, there were other peoples who stood against the Greek aspirations for freedom and liberty, and, instead, supported the tyrannical Ottomans: and no one helped them as much as Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805 – 1848) the Viceroy of Egypt. Called for help in 1824 by Sultan Mahmud II (1808 – 1839) as the Ottomans were being defeated across Greece, Muhammad (or Mehemet) Ali was quick to respond; and hoping to expand his own imperial designs, which started in Hejaz in 1812 and Sudan in 1821, to the Balkans and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, he actively joined the Turks in their desire to defeat the Greeks and end their fight for independence.

Egypt’s Muhammad Ali builds his modern army

Mohammad Ali who was made governor of Egypt in 1805 by the Ottoman Sultan Selim III (1789 – 1807) was not Egyptian but Albanian – a recent comer to Egypt as part of an Albanian contingent in the Turkish army that had been sent to dislodge the French from Egypt. After the French evacuated Egypt in 1801, and before he was appointed governor, two Turkish governors had been appointed and then removed. The job was open to intrigue and purchase; and it often ended in the governor losing his head. Mohammad Ali was more astute than most of his predecessors – he worked to build a power-base from the local ulama and traders in Cairo in order to undermine his many competitors; and then he worked to secure his rule further by building a strong army. Up to 1823, he depended on an army made of irregular of Mamelukes of Albanian, Turkish and Circassian origin. These were notorious for being unruly and mutinous, and they were utterly unreliable and untrustworthy. He, therefore, thought of creating a regular army, trained along European lines with European discipline. For this new army, he raised taxes on the Egyptians, imported European – particularly French – instructors, created a department of war, and built military schools and colleges.

The first trainees were his own 2,000 Mamelukes: over three years they were trained in Aswan by French instructors to become officers. Muhammad Ali then turned his attention to getting troops for his officers. He ruled out Turks and Albanians for he did not trust them. When he occupied Sudan in 1821, he thought of recruiting black soldiers from Kordofan and Sennar regions, but the experiment failed as most Sudanese who were sent to Egypt’s different climate succumbed to disease and died. At this point, in 1823, Muhammad Ali resorted to recruiting the Egyptian Fellahin, and the Fellahin became the backbone of his army. These Fellahin, or Arab soldiers, were led by his Turkish, Albanian and Circassian officers. The Copts, being non-Muslim, and consequently untrusted by Muslims, were excluded from the army until the reign of Said Pasha (1854 – 1863).

By the time of the Egyptian involvement in Greece’s affairs, the Egyptian army – infantry, artillery, cavalry and fleet – was the most powerful non-European army of its day.

The launch of the Greek War of Independence

The Greek rebellion against the Turks and Muslim domination was planned by a secret society, Philiki Etairia (League of Friends), which was founded in 1814 by a group of wealthy merchants within the Greek diaspora community residing in Odessa, in southern Russia. From the beginning they aimed at the liberation of their motherland from its Turkish yoke, using well-co-ordinated armed struggle.  Philiki Etairia did not come to existence from a vacuum: it was preceded by an intense intellectual movement (the Greek renaissance) that worked to revive Greek language, literature and culture – a movement that took pride in Greece’s glorious past and its contribution to Western civilisation. And many Europeans who admired Greece and its heritage (called Philhellines) joined in agitating for an independent Greece. Philiki Etairia aimed at liberation not only of Greece but of all Balkan Christians (Serbs, Romanians, etc.); and it included in its membership not only lay people but also Greek clergy. The Greek Church, represented in its Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Grigorios V (Gregory V; in office, 1797 – 1798, 1806 – 1808, and 1818 – 1821), however, was against the uprising and preached obedience to the Ottoman authorities. However, many priests and bishops joined the movement. It was left for Germanos, Metropolitan of Patras, to officially declare the beginning of the revolution on 25 March 1821.[2] There at the monastery of Agia Lavra, Germanos raised the standard of revolt and exhorted the Greeks to fight the Turks for faith, freedom and country.

The revolution took place simultaneously almost all over Greece, in its mainland, its mountain ranges, its islands that were occupied by the Turks, such as Crete, Samos and Cyprus, and also at sea, where the Greeks’ skills in naval warfare played a great role.

The first act of revolt might have been that which took place in the Danubian Principalities. The Danubian Principalities were composed of Moldavia and Wallachia, a geopolitical area on the lower Danube River that later became Romania. In March, Philiki Etairia despatched a force of 4,500 men composed of different Balkan nationalities under the leadership of Alexander Ypsilantis, who was a general in the Russian army. By crossing the River Pruth that separated the Russian Bessarbia from Moldavia, it moved from inside Russia. Ypsilantis had hoped of a common Balkan front, and that the natives of Romania, who were rising against their local boyars, or notables (who were mainly Greek in origin but working for the Ottomans), would join his forces. However, these disappointed him and showed no inclination to fight the Turks at the time. The Serbs and Bulgarians too failed to join Ypsilantis. Consequently, the Turkish forces of Sultan Mahmud II defeated his forces in the Battle of Dragatsani on the River Otte in June 1821.

The Battle of Dagatsani was a military disaster by all means; however, the Greeks in the south proved more than a match to the Ottoman Turks. There, the rebellion found huge support from the Greeks who achieved greater successes, particularly in the Peloponnese (Morea), the southern part of mainland Greece. And there, over the next few years, the military operations concentrated.

The Greeks had the upper hand in the initial phase of the operations – they managed to liberate many inland areas and islands, and drove the Turks to some of their coastal fortresses. And the Turks, true to themselves, reacted to the rebellion with massacres and enslavement of the Greek population. For instance, in April 1822, the Turks massacred almost all the population of the island of Chios. And a holocaust was launched in Istanbul (Constantinople) and other cities where Greek leaders, civilian or militans,t were executed. Even the pacifist Patriarch Grigorios, who stood against the rebellion, was publically hanged on Easter Day, 22 April 1821, together with many bishops and priests. All approved and directed by Sultan Mahmud II.

Egypt’s rude intervention

In 1824, the Turkish power in Greece was almost crushed, when Sultan Mahmud II called on his nominal vassal in Egypt, Muhammad Ali, who had recently built his new army, for help. The Sultan had offered him the pashalik (territory run by a pasha) of Crete and the Peloponnese in return for his military assistance in the war against the Greeks. And Muhammad Ali readily seized the opportunity, and sent his son, Ibrahim Pasha, in charge of a large army, of fleet, artillery, cavalry and infantry. Egypt’s interference was able to reverse the war’s situation in the Peloponnese and almost crushed the Greek revolution for national independence.

Ibrahim Pasha sailed from Alexandria in July 1824 in a huge celebration. He was in charge of a large fleet comprised of 51 warships and 146 transport vessels, and an army that was made of 17,000 infantry, 700 cavalry, and 4 artillery batteries.[3] On his way to Crete, he first devastated the island of Kosos before landing on Crete and capturing it from the Greeks in early winter. In in January 1825, he sailed to the Peloponnese, where he found the Turks had been defeated in land and sea, and lost all positions except two sea towns on the Gulf of Messenia, in the Peloponnese, which remained in their control: Methoni (modon) and Koroni. Ibrahim established his headquarters at the fortified harbour of Methoni (Modon). From there, as Woodhouse says, “[H]e dominated Morea for the next three years with fire and sword, spreading terror and destruction everywhere.”[4] In May, he captured the important fort of Navarino and the island of Sphaktiria. Then on 22 April 1826, he captured Messolonghi, in western Greece, after a heroic defence by the Greeks. The Turks and Egyptians then moved to Athens and started the Siege of the Acropolis (1826 – 1827). The acropolis was the last fortress still in the hands of the Greeks in central Greece, but on 24 May 1827 its garrison surrendered to the Ottoman forces. For all practical reasons it seemed that Greece’s hopes for freedom were crushed once and for all, and its heroic sacrifices went with the wind. And, so, the imperialist Albanian foreign ruler of Egypt entertained the idea of finally being able to be master of Greece, or at least part of it, as he was master of Egypt, Hijaz and Sudan. Greek resistance at the time was made to retreat to only in a few small islands, particularly in the Aegean Sea in Hydra and Spetses (Spetsai).The situation looked bleak.

End of the Egyptian intervention and the success of the Greek War of Independence

However, help for the Greeks came from where they had not expected. Before the launching of the rebellion, the Greeks were hoping that Russia, being an Orthodox country, and having encouraged them in the past to liberate themselves from the Turkish yoke, would come to their aid. But Tsar Alexander I (1801 – 1825), although he sympathised with the Greeks’ aspirations, was not keen to upset the stability of Europe. In this, all European Powers (Austria, Prussia, France and England) were in agreement: they did not want to threaten the established order after the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) had ended, and they were resolved to suppress liberalism and revolution in Europe. In this sense, the circumstances were not opportune for the Greeks; and in a way they fell victim to their own self-deception and reliance on the European Powers. They even actively propagated the unfounded rumours that Russia would come to their aid once the rebellion had been launched. Nothing like that happened from any of the Great Powers; but, in 1827, circumstances changed: appalled by the massacres committed by the Turks and Egyptians, and facing an outcry from their public who wanted intervention to save the Christian Greeks from wholesale slaughter and slavery (there were rumours that Ibrahim Pasha had planned to depopulate the Peloponnese from the Greeks, enslave and send them to Egypt,[5] and re-people it with Egyptian Fellahin), and now finding that their trading interests were threatened and seriously affected by the continuing fighting, particularly at sea, England, France and Russia decided in the London Conference, on 6 July 1827, to interfere. In the treaty that was signed between them, they envisaged no nationally independent Greece but only a Greece that was autonomous within the Ottoman Empire. And, so, they sent a joint fleet to the eastern Mediterranean to enforce an armistice on the Ottoman forces in the Peloponnese. Historians believe that the agreement between the three powers was almost surely driven, in addition to concerns about their trade, by the Powers’ suspicious of each other, and the fear that one of them might be able to exploit the situation to its own political advantage. But, as it happened, the intervention by the Powers, that was planned to be ‘peaceful interference’, ended by being confrontational.

After the fall of Messolonghi on 22 April 1826 and then fall of the Acropolis in Athens on 24 May 1827, Greek resistance was almost dead all over Greece except in the islands of Hydra and Spetses, as we have seen, and where Greek seamen kept the spark of the revolution alive. To completely crush the Greeks, Ibrahim Pasha sent to his father asking for more warships and troops in order to besiege Hydra, the centre of Greek resistance. In early August 1827, 18 Egyptian, 16 Turkish, and 4 Tunisian warships, in addition to 40 transport ships that carried 4,600 fighters, sailed from Alexandria in Egypt; and on 9 September they set sail at the port of Navarino[6] (on the west coast of the Peloponnese, in the Ionian Sea), joining a Turkish fleet that had arrived from Istanbul and was composed of 23 warships. And while the new fleet and all the troops were preparing to attack Hydra, Ibrahim Pasha was concurrently devising plans to launch another land campaign north of the Peloponnese to reduce all pockets of Greek resistance.

But the Egyptians’ day of reckoning had come. The Powers blockaded Navarino, and on 20 October 1827, in a fateful clash, the Powers’ fleet, having been provoked by the Egyptians, and knowing that Ibrahim Pasha has marched with his troops northwards, attacked the Turco-Egyptian fleet. within two hours, the 27 warships of England, France and Russia, annihilated almost all its 62 warships of the enemies of Greece.[7] Muhammad Ali, recognising the massive disaster, accepted his defeat and signed with the European allies a convention on 9 August 1828 providing for evacuation of what had remained of the Egyptian forces in the Peloponnese. Egypt had spent 770,000 pounds in the invasion, lost 30,000 of its 42,000 strong army, and all its fleet. It was a humiliating defeat for Egypt.

But it was a great relief for the Greeks – they spread their forces over the areas evacuated by their enemy. Even as that was happening, the Great Powers were stuck to their policy of granting Greece only national autonomy under Ottoman sovereignty. However, in the Conference of London in March 1829 and then February 1830, the Powers agreed on a plan for an independent state for the Greeks with frontiers stretching from the Gulf of Arta in the Ionian Sea to the Gulf of Volos in the Aegean Sea, including the Cyclades[8], but excluding Samos[9] and Crete[10]. That arrangement left two-third of Greeks still under Ottoman rule. But the Greeks continued, through diplomacy and war, their struggle to expand their sovereignty over all or most of their historical lands and to include all or most Greeks within the borders of the new state, until in 1920, after WWI and the defeat of Turkey, Greece as we know it today, with its current borders, came into existence.

Our position: Two different worldviews

Such in short is the heroic story of the Greeks’ fight to achieve their national independence; and such is the rude intervention of Egypt under Muhammad Ali, an intervention that nearly crushed Greece’s struggle for freedom and dignity.  How do we look at the Greeks’ war of independence and the Egyptian intervention?

We hail Greece for its brave and heroic fight to free itself from the foreign and oppressive rule by the Turks. And we see the intervention by Muhammad Ali of Egypt as shameful and immoral. We cannot support such an intervention or take it as something to be proud of. The Copts cannot be more clear about this. Their sympathies are entirely with the Greeks on this matter.

But, this shameful move, against the aspirations of a great nation for independence and freedom, has been hailed by the Egyptian historians, such as Abd alRahman alRafai,[11] as a great and heroic act, and this is indeed being presented to Egyptian schoolboys up to this day. While the Greek saw the Egyptian invasion of Greece to help the Ottomans as an imperial design, al-Rifai looked at it as a war of ‘fat’h فّتْح’, or ‘opening’, the same term used by Muslims to designate the Islamic wars of expansion in the first centuries of Islam, including the conquest of Egypt. AlRafai can see nothing wrong, immoral or shameful in the Egyptian intervention in Greece to stop the Greeks from liberating their country and people from one of the worst occupiers in history.

And here we differ. On many of such issues, the Copts and Arabs of Egypt hold different worldviews. We are against unjust wars, wars of expansion, wars of aggression, such as the wars against Greece (1824 – 1827), Ethiopia (1864 – 1866) and Mexico (1863 – 1867). We do not support any imperialist designs. Others may see those as glorious wars, ‘openings’, but we don’t. And we are glad that Egypt’s design to defeat the gallant Greeks has failed, and that Greece has won its independence. We look at Greece and the Greeks with much love and admiration.



David Howarth, The Greek Adventure. Lord Byron and Other Eccentrics in the War of Independence (London, 1976).

Abd al-Rahman al-Rafai, Age of Muhammad Ali (in Arabic: عصر محمد علي) (Cairo, 1930).

David Brewer, The Flame of Freedom. The Greek War of Independence 1821 – 1833 (St. Edmunds, 2001).

Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece (Cambridge, 1999).

M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece. A Short History (London and Boston, 1991).

J. Vatikiotis, The History of Modern Egypt From Muhammad Ali to Mubarak (London, 1991).

L. Macfie, The eastern Question 1774 – 1923 (London and New York, 1989).

Richard Clogg, Modern Greece (London, 1981).


[1] Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), an English poet and politician who fought in the Greek War of Independence, and died there in 1824.

[2] In Old Style. In the New Style = 6 April 1821.

[3] The army received reinforcements later, such as before the sack of Messolonghi in April 1826 and then after its fall.

[4] C. M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece. A Short History (London and Boston, 1991), p. 143.

[5] Greeks who were captured, men, women and children, were sent to Egypt and sold in the slave markets. After the Battle of Navarino, and the capitulation of Egypt, the European Powers forced on Muhammad Ali (Treaty in August 1828) the return of all Greek prisoners of war, and the emancipation of all who were sold in Egypt. These were estimated in thousands.

[6] Navarino is an Italian version of the town of Pylos in Greek.

[7] 300 Turks and Egyptians died in the Battle of Navarino, while the European allies lost only 140 (300 more were wounded).

[8] The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, southeast of mainland Greece.

[9] Samos was made autonomous under a Christian governor.

[10] Crete remained under Muhammad Ali until 1840.

[11] Abd al-Rahman al-Rafai (1889 –1966) was a prominent Egyptian historian who wrote several books on Egyptian history. His, Age of Muhammad Ali (in Arabic: عصر محمد علي) (Cairo, 1930) dedicates chapter 7 for the Greek War.


June 24, 2019


Hilda Petrie (1871 – 1957) with her husband Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942)

Hilda Petrie (1871 – 1957) was an English Egyptologist and artist, and wife of the great Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie. She was married to him when she was 25 years old and he was 43 (she was his junior by 18 years).

Immediately after marriage in 1896, the couple went to Egypt. Hilda was to join Flinders in his great excavations across Egypt, and she proved to be a great assistant. Later, she will become an Egyptologist of her own right.

The Petries loved the Copts. I have written an article about Flinders Petrie’s opinion on the Copts. Here, I would like to share an article by Hilda Petrie which I found in The Palestine Post (Friday, February 28, 1947, p. 5). The article, which was written in 1947 after Flinders had been long dead, is entitled “Visiting Copt Villages”. Most of the Petries’ archaeological focus after 1926 was now centred on Egyptian frontier fortresses in Palestine. In 1933, the couple moved to Jerusalem, Palestine, which was under British control. It seems that her article about the Coptic villages was published shortly after her return to England in 1947. She died in 1957 in Hampstead, in the London Borough of Camden (Flinders had died in Jerusalem 1942).

Hilda Petrie, in her article, draws the attention of the readers to the Copts whose history is often ignored. The Copts, she tells the reader:

[A]re more strictly descended from the ancient Egyptians than any other people in Egypt; their religion having kept them from intermarriage with Islam, they are singularly free from admixture with any other stock.


They are a reddish-brown people, unlike the yellowish-brown Arabs, and they are much more developed than the Fellaheen and even more intelligent.

Their Church is older than that of Rome, she adds. Their language owns its origin to that of the hieroglyphics.

She observes that the Copts in towns work as traders and in accounting; but in rural areas, where they form one tenth of the population, they often “live grouped together in a village of their own for protection.” The shape of their monasteries and churches tell of their persecution. It is these Coptic villages which Hilda Petrie liked to visit and attend the liturgies in, such as on Christmas and Palm Sunday. Her sweetness and love for the Copts can perhaps be most inferred from her description of a Coptic Palm Sunday, and the behavior of children, “swarming up the lectern” during service, but it is “from simplicity, not from irreverence” – “They are in the House of their Father.” Here, there is only sympathy and understanding, not the condescending and cruel criticism which one finds in some of the British of the time.



People often find it difficult to realize what there was of Egypt in the age immediately preceding the Arab invasion. They study the Pre-historic age, and the 30 dynasties down to 300 B.C. and they may have knowledge of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Then they confess to a blank, but the early centuries of our era in Egypt would probably repay any attention we might be able to spare.

Even without such knowledge, it is of great interest to wander in and out of the ancient Coptic churches of Old Cairo, and to make a point of attending divine service in the village church of any country district where one be stationed.

One should certainly not spend a week in Cairo without taking the tram out to Old Cairo to visit the fine old, buildings of early Christianity with their unique screens of ebony and ivory pentagons, and their primitive paintings of Coptic saints.

It is seldom remembered that for nearly 600 years Egypt was an entirely Christian country. The Coptic Church was founded before that of Rome, and Mohammedanism only entered Egypt with the Arabs in the VII century. It was the Evangelist Mark who introduced Christianity, and the official title of the Coptic Church is “The Church of the Preaching of Saint Mark.” The Copts are more strictly descended from the ancient Egyptians than any other people in Egypt; their religion having kept them from intermarriage with Islam, they are singularly free from admixture with any other stock. Their language likewise owes its origin to that of the hieroglyphics. They are a reddish-brown people, unlike the yellowish-brown Arabs, and they are much more developed than the Fellaheen and even more intelligent. In the towns they are given to shop-keeping and accounts, for the most part. In country districts, where they form a tenth of the population, they often live grouped in a village of their own for protection. Their fortified deyr with its strong gateway and the fortress-like church, almost windowless, are relics of the days of persecution.

Village Churches

The village church has clustered domes, and a row of sanctuaries with altars, separated from side to side by a length of paneled screening. This is enriched with eikon pictures of Biblical and Coptic saints, and especially Girghis (St. George) on horseback. The services are impressive but lengthy, and the liturgy is an interesting one, though rather full of repetition. It is a dignified ritual, with fine vestments. Only the priest can master the ancient Coptic, and when the lessons have been duly read by him, they are read again in Arabic so as to be “understanded of the people.” A layman usually does this, but I have once heard it done by a young girl. In their simplicity, they seemed more advanced than we are, in this respect. Men, however, occupy the main part of the church, and the women sit huddled on the floor in an aisle, with their babies. Small boys are much in evidence, some being acolytes and, down to the smallest, they partake in the Communion.

All eyes are fixed on me, throughout the service, if I attend. I am placed in front of the men, and stand facing the high altar. Afterwards the priest talks with me outside, and coffee is brought. He is generally a massively built man with a black beard, and wears a black robe and black turban; he has a presence, but his wife merely resembles the other village women. He is always keen to hear about England and the Church of England. One old Coptic landowner, on whom I used frequently to call, was imbued with a sense of the unity of Churches and said to me once, with great fervour — “We are all one family in Christ.”

Old-Style Calendar

When at Lahun, one season, I made inquiries as to the date of Christmas. Their calendar is Old Style. The Copts seemed uncertain till the actual day arrived, when an urgent letter, in misspelt English, was borne across the Fayyum desert to our camp, addressed to me, and its sole contents — “Dear Sir, it will be Christi-mass this very night.” At 11 p.m. I started off and an hour later, out of the dark desert, and crossing the ruins of the pyramid-town Lahun[1], found my way down to join the assembled few, in a little church where there was gleaming of lamps and chanting of an introit. The villagers sang lustily; the music reminded one somewhat of the Gregorian mode, and accorded with the solemn midnight service.

One lasting recollection of a Coptic place of worship is connected with their Palm Sunday, when all the congregation squats or stands about, plaiting crosses, some plain, some elaborated, from the fresh sword-leaves of the green date-palm, and all the floor is deeply littered with the remnant of them. If two little boys are swarming up the lectern, during service, it is from simplicity, not from irreverence; they are in the House of their Father.


[1] In the article, written as ‘Kahun’, but it is obviously wrong. The correct village is Lahun, which associated with the Pyramid of Senusret II (Pyramid of Lahun).


June 23, 2019


First (24 October 1884) and last (31 July 1914) issues of HaZvi

In 1884, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Father of Hebrew Language Revival, published his newspaper, HaZvi (The Gazelle) in Hebrew. It is now 2019, and we are 135 years from that momentous event for modern Hebrew, and yet, we, the Copts, have no one single newspaper published in Coptic.

When Ben Yehuda started publishing HaZvi in 1884, he was faced with a huge problem, nay gigantic, similar to what would face anyone of us, we Copts, if we launch a newspaper in the Coptic language: he had no ready words for contemporary political ideologies, conceptions and entities, such as capitalism, communism, socialism, nationalism, revolution, demonstration, public opinion, parliament, prime minster, member of parliament, elections, voting, majority system, state; or Hebrew equivalent to most of the countries and states of the time; or much of the modern innovations in science, arts and literature. But Ben Yehuda was not deterred – he was driven by his national zeal to struggle to produce his paper against all the odds. Its peak circulation, in 1909, reached only 1,200 readers. His work in journalism was accompanied, and actually prompted, by his work on his Hebrew dictionary in which he developed thousands of neologisms. He used many of these newly developed words in the news reports in his newspaper, and in the various articles that touched on modern, secular topics. The head title of his paper was “newspaper for news, literature and science.” In literature, he and his editorial team, worked on translations into Hebrew of works from world literature.

These sections included translations of world literature (Shakespeare, Moliere, Zola, Hugo, Jules Verne, Tolstoy, and others); poetry, prose, and essays written by Hebrew authors (also in Russia) like M.J. Berdyczewski, Israel Zangwill, Joseph Klausner, A.S. Rabinovitz (Azar), and others; descriptions of travel throughout Palestine; and articles on the history and geography of the land.

[There was] a special section for women entitled, “Ezrat Nashim (The Women’s Gallery),” which was the first of its type in the Hebrew press. [A]nother special section appeared on agriculture and the working of the land entitled, “Ha-Ikar Ha-Yehudi (The Jewish Farmer),” which a year later became a separate weekly publication of its own.[1]

HaZvi was first produced weekly but it then became daily from 1908. In 1914, with the break of WWI, the Ottoman authorities that were ruling Palestine at the time closed Ben Yehuda’s newspaper as it agitated for a Jewish homeland.

It is an underestimation that HaZvi helped in the revival of Coptic – it was an essential tool in that process. It is because of this – the importance of journalism in the revival of languages and nations – that we hope to see a newspaper in Coptic language.


[1] See: HaZvi in Historical Jewish Press, National Library of Israel, Tel-Aviv University.


June 23, 2019


I was prompted to write this article when I read in the BBC the news that Finnish radio has dropped Latin news after 30 years. The ‘Nuntii Latini’ (News in Latin) was a five-minute weekly bulletin in Latin that had been broadcast since 1989 by the Finnish broadcaster thanks to a project run by the Classics Department of the Helsinki University. It used to be listened to by 500-800 Latin enthusiasts. Limited resources have been blamed for the termination of the bulletin.

Latin is not a national language, in the sense that no national group takes it as a national language essential for its sense of identity – and yet there are many who are keen to modernise it, and make it relevant to the modern world. There can be no test for a language, for its modernity, than its ability to express world news. The limited number of Latin enthusiasts, however disappointed, has not to mourn a lot, for there are other broadcasters who continue to provide the service: in Germany, a 15-minute fortnightly news bulletin in Latin, by Radio Bremen Zwei, is continuing; and in the US a weekly bulletin by the Western Washington University is also kept. And as the Finnish project ends, the Vatican started to broadcast in Latin to regularly inform the world about the Pope’s week (Hebdomada Papae).

Cry for Coptic. No one has tried to produce a newspaper or a radio/TV news bulletin in Coptic. One is not surprised; for even if there are enthusiasts who want to, Coptic cannot express modern words that are needed for a modern news bulletin. No one has developed a Coptic lexicon that covers terms to be used in news bulletins that are mainly political and economic in nature.

It is high time that we produce a Coptic lexicon that covers such political and economic topics. Such a lexicon would be based on Coptic words already out there and new words, whether developed from Coptic roots or loaned from other languages.



June 23, 2019

Linguists are those who studied linguistics – and linguistics is the scientific study of language. Put several lines under ‘scientific’. This is what we need – Coptic linguists with a scientific qualification on languages, and particularly Coptic.

Linguists are generally polyglots – they know several languages, and this general knowledge helps them to understand the structure of language and how they vary in general and in Coptic specifically. A Coptic linguist, to assist in the task of Coptic revival, in my opinion, needs to be good at Coptic but also such languages like Greek (modern and Koine), English, French, German and Arabic. This means they should be experts in fields like phonetics/phonology, syntax, semantics, etc.

They should be good at historical linguistics, including how languages thrive, are maintained, or lost. Language shift is an important concept in that; and how to reverse that and revialise a language that is threatened is essential. Revival of seemingly dead languages – how to do that – is of paramount importance too. Language acquisition and how children acquire language are matters that are central. A linguist should know better about how a language is taught in the classroom setting (applied linguistics), and that includes the best way of teaching a language like Coptic, whether through immersion or school curriculum where a graded way of teaching language lessons throughout the educational ladder.

A linguist of today needs to be good at computational linguistics too. Educational materiality high quality are essential.

The more Coptic linguists, with a degree in the western training (not in Egypt where no one trusts education and degrees), remain our hope for the revival of Coptic.

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