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NAPOLEON BONAPARTE’S DECLARATION TO THE COPTIC NATION ON 7 DECEMBER 1798 – A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT

October 17, 2011

  Bonaparte before the Sphinx by the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. The French, including Napoleon, saw in the Copts the direct descendants of the Pharaohs

Jirjis al-Jawhari (by the French painter, Michele Rigo) was representative of the Coptic nation

NAPOLEON TO THE COPTIC NATION: “(I AM) RETURNING TO THE COPTIC NATION ITS DIGNITY AND INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF MAN THAT HAD BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM IT … FROM NOW ON, IT SHALL NOT BE DEGRADED.”

IT WAS A SOCIAL CONTRACT BASED ON EQUALITY AND RESPECT – VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE ISLAMIC DHIMMITTUDE CONTRACT THAT WAS BASED ON EXPLOITATION AND HUMILIATION

On 30 July 1798, only a few days after the French Expedition landed in Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte appointed Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari (d. 1810), the most prominent Coptic lay member then, General Steward of Egypt; and honoured him dearly. Al-Jawhari was very close to Napoleon.[1] After the arrival of the French in Egypt, the much hated Turks and Mamlukes (in collaboration with the Arab nomads who inhabited the deserts of Egypt and caused havoc wherever they went) launched several attacks on the French and also massacred many innocent Christian Copts in several villages across Egypt.

Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari, as the community’s leader, drafted with other prominent Copts a letter in the name of the Coptic nation, and presented it to Bonaparte. We understand from the content of Napoleon’s response that the Copts, the “Coptic nation”, demanded protection of their members from the attacks by the Turks, Mamlukes and Arabs, and requested certain changes in their condition. Hitherto (before the arrival of the French), what governed the Coptic nation was Islamic law that had only one aim for the Copts – to exploit and humiliate them. The Copts demanded that any laws or practices that had been designed to humiliate and exploit them be abolished; that those who murdered the Copts in the villages be punished; that they enjoyed religious liberty; that they were permitted to carry arms and mount horses and mules, and abandon the restrictions imposed on their natural right to dress in whatever way they liked.

Napoleon granted them all that – he decided to return to the Coptic nation, those descendants of the great Pharaohs, its “dignity and inalienable rights of man”, which had been taken away from it by its oppressors. In other words, Napoleon elevated the Copts’ legal status in the State from dhimis to citizens. He, in return, asked them to serve the French Republic. This was a new social contract whereby the Copts were considered equal members of the polity and enjoyed their essential freedoms and fundamental human rights that were due to them in their capacity as men and human beings, and which were inalienable. It was a social contract that puts protection first and demanded loyalty second.

For the first time in their history, certainly since they had lost their independence c.1000 BC, the Copts came across this new political language and possibilities. That was a completely different contract from the dhimmittude contract which was based on the Pact of Umar I (634-644).

This is not the place to discuss the difference between the two types of contracts – the French social contract of freedom and respect, and the Islamic dhimmittude contract of slavery and humiliation. I simply want to introduce my readers, Copts and non-Copts, to the French text of Napoleon Bonaparte’s letter to Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari, the representative of the Coptic nation, which was dated 7 December 1798, and which forms part of the Napoleonic Collection, and has the serial no. 3717. It was published in 1858 by public order of the Emperor Napoleon III in Correspondance de Napoléon Ier (Vol. 5; pp. 184-5).[2] I have translated Napoleon’s letter into both English and Arabic, which I believe has been done for the first time. I now leave you to read this important Letter, in three different languages, which I call Napoleon Bonaparte’s Declaration to the Coptic Nation:

Napoleon’s letter in French (original)

 

3717.— A L’INTENDANT GÉNÉRAL DE L’ÉGYPTE[1].

Quartier général, au Caire, 17 frimaire an VII (7 décembre 1798).

J’ai reçu, Citoyen, la lettre que m’a écrite la nation copte. Je me ferai toujours un plaisir de la protéger. Désormais elle ne sera plus avilie, et, lorsque les circonstances le permettront, ce que je prévois ne pas être éloigné, je lui accorderai le droit d’exercer son culte publiquement , comme il est d’usage en Europe, en suivant chacun sa croyance. Je punirai sévèrement les villages qui, dans les différentes révoltes, ont assassiné des Coptes. Dès aujourd’hui vous pourrez leur annoncer que je leur permets de porter des armes , de monter sur des mules ou des chevaux, de porter des turbans et de s’habiller à la manière qui peut leur convenir.

Mais, si tous les jours sont marquės de ma part par des bienfaits, si j’ai à restituer à la nation copte une dignité et des droits inséparables de l’homme, qu’elle avait perdus, j’ai le droit, sans doute, d’exiger des individus qui la composent beaucoup de zèle et de fidélité au service de la République.

Je ne peux pas vous dissimuler que j’ai eu effectivement à me plaindre du peu de zèle que plusieurs ont montré. Comment, en effet, lorsque tous les jours des principaux cheiks me découvrent les trésors des Mameluks, ceux qui étaient leurs principaux agents ne me font-ils rien découvrir?

Je rends justice à votre patriarche, dout les vertus et l’intention me sont connues. Je rends justice à votre zèle et à celui de vos collaborateurs, et j’espère que, dans la suite, je n’aurai qu’à me louer de toute la nation copte.

Je donne l’ordre pour que vous soyez remboursé, dans le courant du mois, des avances que vous avez faites.

Bonaparte.

Collection Napoléon.

 The English translation

3717.- TO THE GENERAL STEWARD OF EGYPT.

Cairo’s Headquarters, December 7, 1798.
I have received, Citizen, the Coptic nation’s letter that it wrote me. I will always be delighted to protect it (the Coptic nation). From now on, it shall not be degraded, and when circumstances permit, which I will make sure it is not left for long, I will grant it the right to practice its religion publicly, as is customary in Europe, where each follows his belief (freely). I will severely punish the villages that murdered Copts during the various rebellions. As from today, you can tell them that I permit them to carry weapons, mount mules or horses, wear turbans and dress in whatever way they like.

But, if I bring you benefits every day, by returning to the Coptic nation its dignity and inalienable rights of man that had been taken away from it, I will, undoubtedly, have the right to ask its members to show greater zeal and fidelity in the service of the (French) Republic.
I cannot hide from you that I have actually complained about the lack of zeal that many (Copts) have shown. How, indeed, when I discover treasures of the Mamluke sheiks on daily basis, they (the Copts), who are their main agents, do not help me in that?
I will do justice to your patriarch, whose virtues and intentions I am aware of. I will do justice to your zeal and that of your colleagues; and hopefully, in the future, I will have nothing but praise for the whole nation Coptic.
I give order so that you are reimbursed, in the course of the month, for the advances which you have made.

Bonaparte.

Napoleon Collection.

The Arabic translation

٣٧١٧.- كبير المباشرين في مصر.

مقرالقيادة العام بالقاهرة، ٧ ديسمبر ١٧٩٨.

لقد تلقيت،ايها المواطن ، خطاب الأمة القبطية الذي كتبته لي. إنني سوف أكون سعيدا دائما بحمايتها. من الآن فصاعدا، فإن الأمة القبطية لن تزل; وعندما تسمح الظروف بذلك، وهو ما سوف أتأكد من عدم تركه لفترة طويلة، سوف أمنحها الحق في ممارسة شعائرها الدينية علنا، كما هو معتاد في أوروبا، حيث كل يمارس اعتقاده (بحرية). وسوف اعاقب بشدة القرى التي قتلت اأقباطا خلال الثورات المختلفة. إنك يمكنك أن تقول لهم، اعتبارا من اليوم ، أنني اسمح لهم بحمل السلاح، وركوب البغال و الخيول، وأيضا ارتداء العمامة ولباس ما يريدون من الثياب.

ولكن، إذا كنت أجلب لكم فوائداً كل يوم ، من خلال إعادة الكرامة للأمة  القبطية  وحقوق الإنسان التي لها والتي غير قابلة للإنتقاص، والتي إنتهبت منها، فانه سوف يكون لي الحق، دونا شك،  في أن أطلب من  أعضائها أن تيظهروا حماسة و إخلاصاً أكبرين في خدمة الجمهورية (الفرنسية).

ا أستطيع أن أخفي عليكم أنني قد شكوت فعلا إزاء عدم وجود حماسة كافية لدى العديد من (الأقباط). كيف وأنا ، في الواقع، اكتشف يومياً كنوزاً للشيوخ المماليك، وهم (الأقباط)، الذين هم عملائهم الرئيسيين، لا يساعدونني في ذلك؟

إنني لسوف أنصف البطريرك، الذي فضائله ونياته معروفة لدي. سأفعل العدالة لك ولزملائك، ونأمل في المستقبل، أن لايكون لنا سوى الثناء على الأمة القبطية باجمعها.

إنني أصدر أمري كي، في غضون شهر، يتم تسديد ما تقدمت به.

بونابرت.

المجموعة النابليونية.

How to cite this article: Dioscorus Boles (17 October 2011), NAPOLEON BONAPARTE’S DECLARATION TO THE COPTIC NATION ON 7 DECEMBER 1798 – A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACThttps://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/napoleon-bonaparte%e2%80%99s-declaration-to-the-coptic-nation-on-7-december-1798-%e2%80%93-a-new-social-contract/


[1] Girgès el-Gouhary.


[1] For more on Jirjis al-Jawhari, read: MU’ALLEM Jirjis Al-Jawhari , ISLAM, NAPLEON BONAPARTE AND THE COPT’S CASHMERE TURBAN, https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/mu%e2%80%99allem-jirjis-al-jawhari-islam-napleon-bonaparte-and-the-copt%e2%80%99s-cashmere-turban/

[2] Correspondance de Napoléon Ier; publiée par ordre de l’empereur Napoléon III (1858); Vol. 5; pp. 184-5. All the volumes are available now in Internet Archive – you can access the 5th volume at http://www.archive.org/details/correspondancede05napouoft

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