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October 9, 2016

ON THIS DAY, 9 10 2011, 27 of our people went out to the Maspero state broadcasting building on the Nile Corniche in central Cairo in order to protest the increasing attacks on the Coptic churches by some of Egypt Muslims. That was following the Egyptian Revolution of 25th January that overthrew Mubarak, and the army, represented in its superior command, took over power for a transitory period.

What happened as the Copts were peacefully protesting and demanding protection from the state and religious freedom shook the nation: the Egyptian Army shot at the Copts and ran them over by their heavy military vehicles, and 27 Copts were massacred on the Corniche just outside Hilton Ramsey. 

While the Copts were being massacred, the state television, broadcasting from its Maspero building, kept agitating Muslims to attack Copts, as it claimed the non-armed and peacefully protesting Copts were attacking the Egyptian Army! The result was that Muslims across Cairo and allover Egypt started attacking Copts, and Copts everywhere hid themselves. 

Until now, the Egyptian Army has not acknowledged it’s responsibility of the massacre or apologised; neither has the official media; and the Egyptian Muslim journalist, Rasha Magdi, who incited the wide-spread violence against the Copts, has not been brought to justice.

Coptic Nationalism demands that all responsible be brought to justice. 


October 4, 2016

The Coptic Museum in Old Cairo which founded by Marcus Simaika in the early part of the 20th century, and is house to many Coptic artifacts and works of art, that help to preserve Coptic history and identity, has its name written on its front gate in Arabic and English only, as the picture shows. I say, shame! That must be rectified: the name should be written in Coptic first, then Arabic, and, third, English.


September 28, 2016

In the two previous articles, I spoke about the two opposing views on the matter of ethnic relationship between the Copts and Muslims of Egypt, and then on the study by Henn et al which showed for the first time the genetic structure of the Muslims of Egypt and compared it with those of neighbouring populations to show the effect of “back-to-Africa” gene flow, Arab migration and sub-Saharan slave trade in their blood.

Today, I publish here a quest article by Zack Shenouda on the important 2015 study by Dobon et al, which found that the Coptic genetic structure of the Copts is distinguishable from that of Egyptian Muslims.

Here is his article:

Dobon et al study was published in 2015. This study primarily analyzed 6 ethnic groups in Sudan. These include Copts, Beja, Ethiopians, Arabs, Nubians, and Darfurians. For clarity, the study also mentions that the Coptic population in Sudan, is the product of recent migration from Egypt. A previous 2008 study H.Y. Hassan et al, further corroborates Dobon’s point, by stating that the highly effective population size of the Coptic population in Sudan is the product of recent migrations from Egypt.  Basically, the authors in both these studies, make it a point to clarify that the origin of this Coptic population, is from Egypt.  The author in the 2015 study also makes this clear by demonstrating that Copts cluster closely together and they cluster in a way that remains differentiated from all other Sudanese groups in this study.





Dobon et al study compared this Coptic population to the Egyptian non-Coptic population.

This study used the external data from the Henn et al study, which provided information on the genomic data for Egyptian Muslims.


Dobon makes a comparative analysis between the Coptic sample and the non-Coptic Egyptian population(Egyptian Muslims). This non-Coptic Egyptian population is referenced as Egypt in his study. The study conducts this comparative analysis by using ADMIXTURE.  Below were the ADMIXTURE results:




The ancestral components were labeled by five colors. These include North African/Middle Eastern (dark blue), Sub-Saharan (light blue), Coptic (dark green), Nilo-Saharan (light green) and Fulani (pink). As the analysis proceeds from K=2 to K=5, more details gradually emerge.


The study indicates that Copts show their own component and this is demonstrated at the K=4. The study claims that Copts specifically lack influence from Qatar, which is present in the Egyptian population. The author in this study believes that this discovery suggests, “Copts have a genetic composition that could resemble the ancestral Egyptian population, without the present strong Arab influence.”


Below are the components for Copts, Egypt (Egyptian Muslim), and Qatar at K=4.

s4                                                                               Qatar                         Egypt                      Copts


While all three of these components still demonstrate the North Africa/Middle-Eastern ancestral component (dark blue) at K=4, we also we begin to notice sharp differences, with Copts demonstrating significantly more of the Coptic component (dark green) than both Qatari & the non-Coptic Egyptian population. We also notice that the Egyptian Muslim and the Qatari population demonstrate some Sub-Saharan Africa component (light blue). On the other hand, Copts don’t demonstrate any Sub-Saharan African component.   It’s telling that when the analysis gets more detailed at K=4, we begin to see that the Egyptian non-Coptic population shows more similarities with the Qatar population, than with the Coptic population.


Why is this important? It’s been repeated in the past, that Copts and Egyptian Muslim are genetically indistinguishable. These claims were based on old studies, which have not explored genetics in the adequate amount exploration and detail required. Sameness claims are easy to make because they don’t require much exploration. For example in 2002, one study found that humans in general were 99.9% genetically identical [See here].


Sameness claims deceptive by omission. The level of detail is simply less, which yields a sameness conclusion.  Sameness is claimed due to the incapability of finding the difference and missing the difference [See here].


It is now clear that as technology advances, we being to have the opportunity to explore the genome in a deeper manner and identify the genetic differences between Copts and Egyptian Muslims. Dobon’s study was one of the first to demonstrate just that and we can expect more to come in the future.


We still don’t have all the answers, but what we do know is Copts and Egyptian Muslims are genetically distinguishable.  To deny this difference is to deny data. And for one group to demonstrate more of a component than the other is one way to demonstrate this difference. In other words, even if all groups have the same components, the frequencies of these components are what yield difference.


Copts and Egyptian Muslims are genetically distinguishable.








September 27, 2016

In Part 1, we discussed the opposing claims on the matter of the ethnicity of the Copts and Muslims of Egypt, we showed that they were based mainly on political, historical and anthropometric considerations, and we said that only recently have genetics really entered as a tool to decide the debate. Here, in this part, we review an important study that gave us the genetic structure of Muslim Egyptians based on their single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – a study that formed a good basis for further studies. The study was published in 2012 in PLOS Genetics, and authored by Henn et al, Genomic Ancestry of North Africans Supports Back-to-Africa Migrations.[1] The authors introduced their study by telling us that, prior to their study, little is known about the genetic make-up of Mediterranean North Africa, a huge area inhabited by over 160 million people. They, hence, set themselves up to analyse the genetic structure of seven North African populations, spanning from Egypt to Morocco: Egyptian, Libyan, Tunisian, Algerian, North Moroccan, South Moroccan and Sahrawi (from Western Sahara).[2] The study was designed for more than just determining the genetic structure of these populations: it analysed also the genetic influence of migrants from neighbouring countries in the genomes of these populations. The authors, therefore, included in their study nine populations from Africa, Asia and Europe for comparison: 6 populations from sub-Saharan Africa (4 populations from western Africans [from Nigeria: Yoruba, Hausa, Bulala and Fulani], and 2 populations from eastern Africa [from Kenya: Luhya and Maasai], 2 populations from Europe (Spanish Basque and Italian Tuscans), and one population from Asia (Near East [Qatari]).[3] This was done to test three proposed migrations into North Africa from neighbouring regions:

  1. A migration (what is called “back-to-Africa gene flow”) from Eurasia in the Palaeolithic Era – an era also called Old Stone Age,[4] and lies in prehistory, from about 2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 BC (exactly 10,300 BC).
  2. An Arabic migration across the whole of North Africa 1,400 years ago (i.e., since the Arab invasion of the area in the seventh century).
  3. A trans-Saharan transport of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa.

The authors analysed ~730,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from across the human genome of the seven North African populations. And, by using ADMIXTURE, a computational unsupervised clustering algorithm for estimation of ancestry, [5] they analysed the common autosomal SNP loci of the 16 populations [based on approximately 300 K autosomal SNP loci in common]. They were able to describe the effect of the hypothesised migrations from the Near East, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa into North Africa; and so they identified:

  1. A gradient of likely autochthonous (indigenous, native) ancestry that decreases from west to east across northern Africa: high in the Sahrawi population and less in the Egyptian population) . The indigenous North African ancestry (which the authors call “Maghrebi ancestry”) is more frequent in populations with historical Berber ethnicity. And they concluded that this ancestry was likely derived from “back-to-Africa” gene flow more than 12,000 years ago.[6]
  2. A gradient of Near Eastern Arabic ancestry that decreases from east to west: high in the Egyptian population and less in the Sahrawi population. The study showed a substantial shared ancestry with the Near East.
  3. Significant signatures of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the seven Northern African populations that vary substantially among them. These sub-Saharan ancestries appear to be recent introduction into North African populations; and they vary in time, source and destination, possibly reflecting the patterns of the trans-Saharan slave trade:
    1. There is genetic evidence of western African migration into southern Morocco that began about 1,200 years ago.
    2. In Egypt, the evidence points to a migration of individuals with Nilotic ancestry into Egypt that occurred about 750 years ago (which corresponds to the beginning of the Bahri Mamelukes).

The following figure [A] shows, i. a map with the locations of the 7 North African populations and the 9 neighbouring populations in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Near East; ii. the population structure analysis of the 7 North African populations (with the Qatari also shown), and the two distinct, opposite gradients of ancestry [as shown at k=8]: the indigenous Maghrebi ancestry decreasing in proportion from west to east (indicated by the light blue colour) and the Arab ancestry from the Near East (Qatar) decreasing in proportion from east to west (indicated by the green colour).  The other colours in the population structure analysis match those colours of the populations in the open circles in the map.


Figure B shows the population structure analysis (at k=2, 4, 6 and 8) of the 16 populations:[7]


The genetic structure of the Egyptian Muslims with their ancestry composition is represented below (k=6) is shown below in a magnified form (each bar represents an individual in the sample population):


We see that the Muslim Egyptians have indigenous Maghrebi component, which resulted from an ancient “back-to-Africa” gene flow a long time ago (shown here in light blue colour), a stronger Arab (Qatari) component in a larger proportion that resulted from gene flow since the Arab invasion of Egypt in the 7th century (shown here in green colour), a significant genetic signature from east Africa (Maasai and Luhya from Kenya) that was introduced in the late 13th century, as result of the slave trade that started heavily in the late 13th century (shown in orange and red).

This is the first time that genome-wide SNP genotyping array data for Egyptians has been analysed to study the genetic make-up of Egyptians and identify their ancestry components. The Copts were not included in the Henn et al’s study but at least we have now the genetic structure of the Egyptian Muslims, and, as we can see in the next article, others analysed the genetic structure of some Copts and, using the data for the Egyptian Muslims obtained from Hen et al, were able to compare the genetic composition of the Copts v. Egyptian Muslims, with very interesting result.

We shall study that in the next part.







[1] Henn BM , Botigué LR , Gravel S , Wang W , Brisbin A , et al. Genomic Ancestry of North Africans Supports Back-to-Africa Migrations. PLoS Genet. 8(1): e1002397 (2012).

[2] The study included 152 individuals representing the seven different North African populations. After quality control filtering, 125 individuals remained, with 19 from Egypt, 17 from Libya, 18 from Tunisia, 19 from Algeria, 18 from North Morocco, 16 from South Morocco and 18 from Western Sahara.

[3] Apart from the Spanish population, the genome-wide SNP genotyping array data were available from previous studied. The authors had to analyse that of the Spanish population (Basque Country) together with the seven North African populations as no prior study analysed its genetic structure.

[4] The Palaeolithic Era (Old Stone Age) was followed by the Neolithic Era (New Stone Age), which began around 10,000 BC and ended in Egypt in 3,000 BC, when the Egyptians discovered writing, and history began. Both the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods are part of Pre-history, and both comprise the Stone Age. In the Palaeolithic period that lasted for over 1 ½ million, the Earth was inhabited by many human species, who were nomadic hunter-gatherers; in the Neolithic period, only Homo sapiens sapiens remained, who were largely settled and survived on growing crops and animals that they were able to domesticate.

[5] It estimates of ancestry in unrelated individuals. For more on ADMIXTURE, read: Alexander et al (2009), Fast model-based estimation of ancestry in unrelated individuals. Genome Res 19: 1655.

[6] That is in the Upper Palaeolithic Era (the Upper part of the Palaeolithic Era is the period extending from 126,000 to 11,700 years ago).

[7] The authors successfully analysed nine ancestral clusters (k=2 through 10) of the 16 populations.


September 27, 2016

I start with the presumption that the Copts are the direct descendants of the Ancient Egyptians and their purest representation; and it is not my intention here to either prove or disprove it, though I believe in the accuracy of the statement. This, and the following articles, is about the question: do Muslim Egyptians share the Copts in their genetic structure? In other words, are the Muslims and Copts of Egypt similar in ethnicity? The Copts are obviously different from Muslim Egyptians in religion; but, it has often been said that Muslim Egyptians are the descendants of those Copts who converted to Islam during various periods of intensified persecution the Muslim occupation of Egypt in 642 AD – that the current Muslim Egyptians are the sons of the Copts. To what extent is this accurate? This claim was first put forward by the Copts in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the intention of strengthening the relationship between them and the Muslims of Egypt – if the Muslims of Egypt could see that they and the Copts are the same ethnically, they may abandon their religious prejudice against the Copts, and treat them as equal compatriots. That was the hope.  To my knowledge, the first to propose this was the Coptic historian, Ya’aqub Nakhla Rofaila (1847 – 1908) in his book Tarikh al-Umma al-Quibtiya (History of the Coptic Nation), which he published in 1898. Rofaila opens his first chapter “The Origin of the Copts” by stating that the Copts are the remainders of the ancient Egyptians; then, using the Arab writer, Maqrizi (1364 – 1442), as a source, he, confusedly, tries to explain the roots of the words “Egypt/misr” and “Copt/qibt”; and he then concludes by saying: “Every Copt is Egyptian, and every Egyptian is a Copt.”[1] Marcus Simaika (1864 – 1944), the founder of the Coptic Museum, repeated the claim that all Egyptians are Copts; some are Muslim Copts, and others, Christian Copts, but all are descendants of the ancient Egyptians. And, then, in what reminds us of the fact not all Muslim Egyptians bought the claim, adds: “All enlightened Muslims now agreed.”[2]

The fact is that most Muslim Egyptians prided themselves, rightly or wrongly, of being of Arab descent and did not see themselves as one and the same in roots with the Copts: the Copts were to them an accursed “gins pharaoni” (genus pharaonicus). The Coptic Egyptologist, Gorgy Sobhy (1884 – 1964), writes:

“The common saying among their compatriots that the Copts are of “gins pharaonic,” or genus pharaonicus: this tradition alone would prove that there is some truth in the assertion that the Copts are of ancient Egyptian blood. Even the fellahin are never designated ‘gens pharaonic,’ nor do they accept it, for they are always proud to assert that they are Arab sons of Arabs.”[3]

Sobhi represents the opposite point of view: not influenced by political considerations, he sees clear ethnological distinction between the Copts – who, he asserts, are the direct and actual representatives of the Ancient Egyptians based on ethnological, philological and anthropological criteria – and the Muslim Egyptians.[4] And he writes that he can tell Muslims from Copts by appearance; basing his claim on anthropometric and biological facts.[5]

The Muslims of Egypt, sure and proud of their presumed Arab ancestry, were largely oblivious to the debate.  This seems to have changed recently to some extent: it does not seem that the prompt to such a change by the Egyptian Muslims was directed by a need to draw closer to the Copts or strengthen the ethnic unity between the followers of the two main religions in Egypt, but to distance themselves from the Arabs – now seen as the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula – who became associated in the mind of many in West with terrorism, particularly since 2001.[6] One can now hear some young Muslims stressing: “We are all Copts,” meaning original Egyptians.

Where rests the truth? History tells us that many Copts converted to Islam, particularly during the persecutions of the Fatimid Caliph, al-Hakim bi Amr Allah (996 – 1021), and the Bahri Mamelukes in 1301, 1321and 1354.[7] History, however, also tells us that many Muslims from various Islamic countries and societies in Africa, Asia and even Europe, migrated, or brought, to Egypt during the various times of Islamic rule: during the Rashidun (640 – 658), Umayyad (659 – 750), Abbasid (first period, 750 – 868), Tulunid (868 – 905), Abbasids (second period, 905 – 935), Ikhshidid (935 – 969), Fatimid (969 – 1171), Ayyubid (1171 – 1250), Bahri Mameluke (1250 – 1382), Burji Mameluke (1382 – 1517), Ottoman (1517 – 1 805) and Muhammad Ali Dynasty (1805 – 1952) periods. And the trend continues right to this day. These Muslims came from Yemen, Saudi, Qatar and other Gulf states, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan area, Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Turkey, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunis, Libya, Mali, Niger, Kenya, and diver other places in Africa. These new immigrants mixed, to a large or small degree, with the Islamised Copts or those foreign Muslims who had come first. This resulted in the contribution of foreign blood (by which I mean the blood of peoples who were not originally Egyptian) far exceeding, in my opinion, the contribution of Coptic blood in the Egyptian Muslim genetic pool. Foreign blood in Muslim Egypt is often presumed to be limited to Arab ancestry – this is incorrect: although Arabs contributed to the current Egyptian genetic pool, Berber, Sudanese (by which I mean sub-Saharan Africa, including eastern and western Africa) and Turkish blood, in my estimation, contributed more.

So far, theories predominate; and politics, history and anthropology have had the most influence in forming opinions; and DNA studies have had limited contribution. A few studies have been published on the genetics of the Egyptians, but none addressed our question directly, and the methods used were unsatisfactory. This is now changing – in the last few years a few studies have been published analysing the human genome of the Egyptians and the Copts, albeit in separate studies. Though not focusing on our subject directly, these studies have come up with very useful and interesting results that open new horizons in deciding the genetic structure of the Muslims and Copts of Egypt, their genetic nexus and ancestry.

We shall review some of these studies in subsequent articles.


[1] Ya’aqub Nakhla Rofaila, Tarikh al-Umma al-Quibtiya (Cairo, 1898).

[2] Donald Malcolm Reid, Whose Pharaohs? Archeology, Museum, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I, p. 282 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002).

[3] Donald Malcolm Reid, Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums, and the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser, p. 216 (The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2015).

[4] Gorgy Sobhy, Notes on the ethnology of the Copts considered from the point of view of their descendance from the Ancient Egyptians, Bulletin de l’association des amis des églises et de l’art copte (counted as BASC) 1 (1935): pp.43-59.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Baher Ibrahim, An Egyptian, and an Arab. The Guardian (8 July 2010).

[7] The reader can review the following papers: Little Donald P., Coptic Conversion to Islam under the Bahri Mamluks, 625-755/1293-1354, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 39, 1976, pp. 552-69; O’Sullivan, Shaun, Coptic Conversion and Islamization of Egypt, Mamlūk Studies Review 10 (2006): 65–79; M. Perlmann, Notes on Anti-Christian Propaganda in the Mamluk Empire, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 10, Issue 4, February 1942, pp. 843-861.


September 6, 2016

In the previous article, I talked about the Egyptian Muslims’ opinion on the position of women in society, which was revealed by the Pew Research Center which was conducted in Egypt in 2011/2012 and published in 2014. The result was depressing: most Egyptian Muslims hold no much respect for women, and do not believe they should be treated equal to men.

The study which included 1798 Muslims included both men and women. And the results that I included in the previous article are representative of both women and men. Reading these results without separating views according to sex may be misleading. One would expect women to be keener about women’s rights than men. Is that right for Egypt’s Muslims’ women?

I will rely on the same Pew survey and on the UNESCO’s report on female genital mutilation to assess the position of Muslim women in Egypt on women rights.


As mentioned in the previous article, the survey asked four questions: Must a wife always obey her husband? Should a wife have the right to divorce her husband? Should women decide for themselves if they wear a veil in public or should it be imposed on them? And should sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights? The questions were asked to both men and women. The survey managed to classify the answers by gender in two questions (the veil question and the equal inheritance one); and studying the gender differences in these question is of paramount importance to tell us about the position of the Muslim women on these issues that are strongly related to al woman’s freedom to choose for herself (the veil question) and  to equality between men and women (the inheritance question).

Let’s study the answers:

  1. Should women decide for themselves if they wear a veil in public or should it be imposed on them? Only 46% of Egyptian Muslims said a woman should be free to decide whether she wear a veil in public or not: the majority (54%) do not think women should have that freedom. The graph shows the answers given by Muslims in 39 countries, including Egypt.


Now, let’s study the following table that divides opinion according to gender:


Although the difference between Muslim women and Muslim men is statistically significant (+15%), only 54% of women said that veiling in public should be left for women themselves to decide whether to wear or not. It’s worrying that 46% of Muslim women believe that the veil should be imposed on them by others. Egypt’s Muslim women forfeit their freedom to choose whether to wear or not wear a veil in public.

  1. Should sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights? Only 26% of Egyptian Muslims answer positively. 74% do not think daughters should be given equal share to boys.


The graph shows that only 26% of Egyptian Muslims (men and women) believe that a daughter should inherit on equal basis to a son. This is very bad result. But do Muslim women score higher on this issue? Is there any indication that they are more for equality between women and men on this issue at least? Here is the table that shows the gender difference:


The result is shocking: the difference between Muslim women’s opinion on this and Muslim men’s opinion is not significant (only a +4% difference): more shocking is that only 28% of Egypt’s Muslim women thought a daughter should inherit equal to a son; and 72% said a girl should not inherit of her father the same share like her brother. Here, Egypt’s Muslim women forfeit their right for equality in inheritance.



The UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) published in July 2013 its Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, and found that the prevalence of FGM in Egypt was 91% in women between 15 and 49 years. Egypt had one of the highest prevalence of FGM in all 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM was concentrated. It was also the country with the most girls and women with FGM (27.2 million at least). You can read my study on this by visiting here.

What do Egyptian women think of FGM? And how many of them support FGM, and do they differ significantly from men in that? One would expect women who are the victims of this barbaric procedure that harms them enormously to be overwhelmingly against it. But, is it? Look at the following table that shows the comparative support for FGM in the age group 15-49 years, who have heard of the procedure, between boys/men and girls/women:

  Men Women
FGM should continue 57% 54%
FGM should stop 26% 35%
Undecided 17% 11%


You can immediately see the depressing figures: there is no real big difference between men and women on their support for FGM: more men tend to support it, but the majority of women in Egypt (54%) do too. Only 35% of women in Egypt want the barbaric procedure to stop. On this support/no support for FGM issue, Egypt joins Gambia, Somalia, Sierra Leon, Guinea and Mali.

FGM of course is also prevalent within the Copts, and I have explained in previous articles 1 and 2 how that was introduced into Coptic society in the Middle Ages of Egypt as a matter of societal pressure from the Muslims, whereas in the Muslim society the procedure relies mainly on the Traditions of Muhammad and the religious teachings of the two prevalent mazhabs of fiqh in Egypt: Shafi’ism and Malikism. Within the Copts, there is no religious element to this shameful procedure. While 92% of Muslim women 15-49 years had FGM, 74% of Coptic women of the same age group had it. The future is brighter for the Copts, though. The support for FGM in the age group 15-49 years in boy/men and girls/women who have heard of the procedure is much, much less. Here are the figures for the Copts:

  Men Women
FGM should continue 20% 22%



The Egyptian Muslim women, who experience discrimination and oppression, pose us with some difficult questions. As I said, one would expect them to be overwhelmingly against any restrictions on their freedoms and equality with Muslim men. The sad reality is that they are not. Only a minority of Egyptian Muslim women aspire for a freer and equal society that treats men and women alike. These are the ones that continue the great women liberation movement in Egypt that started in the beginning of twentieth century. The majority of Egypt’s Muslim women are resigned to their lot, and accept their inferior position within society, influence in that by Islam.

This is sad on two fronts: first, it is sad as it means Egypt’s Muslim women will continue to be deprived of the type of freedom and equality their men enjoy; second, it is sad because, as I repeatedly said, women’s rights in Egypt are intertwined with that of the Copts: a progress in women’s rights in Egypt means a progress of Coptic rights – and vice versa.

How can one explain the position of Muslim women in Egypt on their rights? The example of the slave, who is reduced by his slavery to a wretched condition in which he loses the confidence in himself and his own worth and entitlement to the same dignity and rights as his master’s, comes to mind.   Alternatively, it is the toxic effect of religion that makes a woman accepts her inferior position in society without questioning.

If our rights as Copts and liberal Muslims are to be advanced – nay if Egypt is to progress and become a modern country for all – women’s rights must be respected. But, for the time being, it seems that the worst enemy (or second worst at least) of women’s rights are Muslim women themselves.


September 6, 2016

In a previous article, I assessed how much Egypt’s Muslims could be classified as extremists. That was based on the Pew survey by the Pew Research Center which was conducted in Egypt in 2011/2012 and published in 2014. The assessment showed that most Egyptian Muslims were extremist in their political and social views and in what they want for Egypt and the Copts (and other faiths).

For a long time I have been pointing to the strong relationship between Egypt’s women rights (regardless of religion) and the rights of the Copts. It is my belief that when Coptic rights progress, women rights follow suit; and on the other hand, when the Copts are oppressed, Egyptian women are oppressed too. The reason for that is clear: Coptic and women rights in Egypt are a function of Islam and Western liberal values in society: the stronger Islam becomes as a political force in society and state (and the weaker liberal values), the lower Coptic and women rights plummet; and the weaker Islam becomes as a political force in society and state (and the stronger liberal values), the higher Coptic and women rights rise to.

Because of the above, I studied also the results of the Pew survey on the position of women in society (Chapter 4). The survey asked four questions:

  1. Must a wife always obey her husband? (the keyword is ‘always’)
  2. Should a wife have the right to divorce her husband?
  3. Should women decide for themselves if they wear a veil in public or should it be imposed on them?
  4. Should sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights?


The questions are pertinent to Islam. I guess the surveyors wanted to assess the strength of Islamic principles on these issues. For example, according to Quran (4:11), daughters should receive half share of inheritance for every one share given to a son; and all main Islamic schools of jurisprudence (mazahib fiqhia), including the two prominent schools of fiqh in Egypt (Shafi’ism and Malikism) require all women to veil.

Here are the results of Egypt’s Muslims (the study surveyed both men and women) opinion on the position of women in society:

  1. MUST A WIFE ALWAYS OBEY HER HUSBAND? 85% answered yes.


2. SHOULD A WIFE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DIVORCE HER HUSBAND? 22% only said yes. This is lower than 19 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa: Egypt ties with Jordan, and only Iraq and Malaysia score lower.


3. SHOULD WOMEN DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES IF THEY WEAR A VEIL IN PUBLIC OR SHOULD IT BE IMPOSED ON THEM? Only 46% said a woman should be free to decide whether she wear a veil in public or not: the majority (54%) do not think women should have that freedom.



4. SHOULD SONS AND DAUGHTERS HAVE EQUAL INHERITANCE RIGHTS? Only 26% of Egyptian Muslims answer positively. 74% do not think daughters should be given equal share to boys.




In all questions Egyptian Muslims show there are extremely conservative. Their views are shaped by Sharia and not by modern values that guarantee equal rights to both men and women. In Sharia women are not treated equally: they must obey their husbands always, and if they disobey their husbands in anything, they are beaten, abandoned and the “angels” curse them. Further, in Sharia women do not have the right to divorce their husbands except in very restricted circumstances, which are termed Khol’a, a matter introduced to Egypt only recently and is obtained only with extreme difficulty. In contrast, a man can marry four wives, and can divorce them just by uttering the word “divorce” and throwing it at a wife. Furthermore, in Sharia all women must veil. And last, women inherit only half of their male sibling’s share.

Egyptian Muslim society reflects these unfair attitudes towards women. The survey looked at the effect of Sharia on the answers, and it found that differences between those who want Sharia to be the official law and those who do not are most pronounced when it comes to the role of wives and the position of women. In all four questions above, those who wanted Sharia scored worse than those who didn’t want Sharia to be the law of the land.[1]

We have seen in the previous study the appalling views on Egypt’s Muslims on the Copts; now we see them on women. The fate of the women of Egypt in society and state and that of the Copts in Egypt are entwined.

[1] Egypt was not included in this study, but the effect of Sharia was tested in 10 countries with all confirming what I have written in the main text.

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