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March 13, 2012

General Findings: Coptic Diaspora Survey

The reader can access it here:

Towards the end of 2011, George Washington University, in conjunction with and at the request of Coptic Orphans, conducted the first large scale survey of the Coptic Diaspora (Copts living outside of Egypt). The purpose of the survey was to identify the factors that keep Coptic diasporans interested in engaging in Egypt and in what particular ways. It was intended to be a landmark study and was hoped to make Copts more visible in religious, academic, and political discussions involving Egypt and the Middle East. It was also hoped to show just how significant Copts’ financial, philanthropic, and volunteer involvement in Egypt really was.

The principal investigators were Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Professor at the Public Administration & International Affairs, and Director of the George Washington Diaspora Research Program, The George Washington University, and Liesl Riddle, Associate Dean of MBA Programs, Associate Professor, International Business & International Affairs, the George Washington University School of Business. The survey project was conducted in collaboration with Coptic Orphans; a Coptic charity registered at the U.S. and had been engaged for 20 years in extensive and widespread social work in Egypt. The founder, and executive director, of Coptic Orphans, who had been a partner in this important survey was Nermien Riad.

Introductory video about the survey inviting Copts in the diaspora to participate in it

On 10 February 2012 the survey results were released at an event at George Washington University (1957 E Street, NW, Room 602) under the title: Findings from the GW Coptic Diaspora Survey: Implications for Egypt and its Development. At the event, Jennifer Brinkerhoff and Liesl Riddle shared the most interesting – and maybe even surprising – findings about Coptic business, volunteer, and philanthropic engagement with Egypt. His Grace Anba Angaelos, General Bishop for the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, discussed those findings from the Coptic perspective, and Dilip Ratha, Lead Economist and Manager, Migration and Remittances Team, Development Prospects Group, World Bank presented the World Bank’s perspective on diaporas.

The launch event on 10 February 2012 featuring Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Nermien Riad, Liesl Riddle, Bishop Angaelos and Dilip Ratha

I did not attend the event but had followed it, and the project, with much interest. Here we have the first survey of its kind by a prestigious American university about the Coptic diaspora and its engagement in Egypt. We now scientifically know more about the pivotal role of the Church in the lives of the Copts in the diaspora, their identity, what motivates them into action in social, economic and political areas, and how they do that. At the event, Professor Jennifer Brinkerhoff told us about the five key primary findings of the study, which give a good summary:[i]

  1. The Coptic Orthodox Church is instrumental in keeping Coptic diasporans connected to Egypt. Without the institutional and identity support provided by the Coptic Orthodox Church, it is possible that Copts living in diaspora could lose their connection to Egypt over time. They seem to identify most with their Coptic identity and their country of residence identity, and less with Egypt and its broader diaspora (though their identification with these is still significant). Members of the Coptic diaspora engage with church or church-related charities more than any other type of diaspora organization.
  2. Members of the Coptic diaspora are primarily engaged with Egypt through philanthropy. This engagement is largely facilitated by the Coptic Church and by Coptic diaspora charitable organizations.
  3. The Coptic diaspora is more interested and more capable of contributing to development in Egypt than its current activities reflect. Their interest in volunteering on behalf of Egypt, for example, is greater than their actual volunteering. Interest in making contributions to Egypt seems to have increased in the last two years, likely owing to recent events there. The median age of this diaspora is relatively young. The sample suggests this diaspora is highly educated and relatively well-off economically. There may be an important opportunity to harness this interest and the resources of the diaspora to contribute more to improved quality of life in Egypt.
  4. Coptic diasporans’ interest in investment far surpasses their experience. It is possible that socio-political conditions in Egypt have thus far discouraged most potential investors. It may also be that optimism regarding the reform processes underway in Egypt (at the time of the survey) are inspiring interest in investing for the first time.
  5. Some Coptic diasporans engaged in the formal political system in Egypt for the first time following the 2011 revolution. Recent events seem to have inspired new interest in the politics of Egypt, but only for a small percentage of the diaspora. If the political opening of Egypt is reignited and optimism is sparked once again in this community, it is possible that their political engagement in the formal system may increase. Voting, in particular, is a highly symbolic mechanism for maintaining linkage to countries of origin and could reinforce intentions to make contributions there.

His Grace, Bishop Anba Angaelos, spoke in the event and gave an interesting view on why the Coptic communities outside should not be called Coptic Diaspora. He gave a humorous anecdote on the meaning of Coptic Orthodox in which he once encountered a scruffy man at a petrol station in Wales, U.K., who appeared to know what Egyptian Orthodox meant only too well. Bishop Angaelos picked on one of the findings of the Survey that Copts seemed to “identify most with their Coptic identity and their country of residence identity, and less with Egypt and its broader diaspora (though their identification with these is still significant)”, and explained why that was the case. It was all to do with how Copts were treated in their country of origin. But if anyone had any doubts that the Copts loved Egypt – their country – let him listen to what Bishop Angaelos had to say.

But one has to read this Survey in detail and to watch the event video carefully. There is a wealth of information in them. They contain, inter alia, some important demographic statistical data on the Copts; some are mentioned as a side-dish only, e.g., that 71% of the overall Coptic diaspora reside in Arab countries, and that the Copts in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia were estimated in 2010 at some 533,000.

[i] From General Findings: Coptic Diaspora Survey; February 23, 2012; p. 18.

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