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July 23, 2012

Figure 1: Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 – 1970).


In 1958-1961, Nasser ended Coptic educational independence which they had retained since the Arab invasion in 641 AD.


Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the July 25, 1952 Revolution which was led by Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 – 1970). Even if some Egyptians celebrate, we don’t. Nasser’s damage to Egypt is enormous (we shall not discuss here) – his damage to the Copts is even more so.

Nasser damaged the Copts in many ways – he ended the liberal period (1922 – 1952) which gave them some chance of expressing themselves and exercising appropriate political influence and power; he nationalised their businesses, lands and properties, and therefore undermined their economic power; and he undermined their Coptic identity, by his Arabisation tendencies and policies, like no one has ever done before him.

It is this last destructive effect of Nasser’s policies on the Copts which we focus on here in short. Nasser declared that Egyptians were Arabs and Egypt an Arab country; and he set out, with his cronies, to Arabise Egypt’s education, media and culture – and all, including Copts, were not able to object for fear of being thrown into jails and being accused of serving Israel’s and the West’s interests.

In his zest to control, Nasser ended the era of Coptic schools which had been inaugurated by the great, Patriarch Cyril IV (1854 – 1863): in 1958, Nasser imposed on all private schools a curriculum which included Arabic, history and geography lessons that were designed to indoctrinate and Arabise pupils. Then in 1961, he nationalised these schools altogether – henceforth, no Coptic school existed: Copts could not teach their language, history or culture at school anymore; they had to receive school instruction that glorified Arabic, Arabs and Islam all the time. The control of Coptic education is no more in their hands, but in the hands of Arabs and Muslims. And so the Copts lost their educational independence, which they retained until Nasser took it away from them. [i]

The loss of Coptic schools – well, Coptic education – which, despite their recognised defects, was superior to any education institutions that has hitherto been developed by the state, and so is regrettable from the pure educational point of view. However, more devastating though, is the undermining of Coptic identity that the state schools have caused by brainwashing many Copts into thinking they are Arabs. These I call the “fake Copts”, the “superficial Copts”, the “Arabised Copts” – and we are seeing more and more of them. Coptic culture, history, language, arts, music, architecture, and even religion do not constitute important issues for them. They live in a “state of religious and national limbus” – and with a slight push, or a little pull, they can abandon our folds.[ii]


For more on Nasser and the Copts, read:

The reader can also find it at Middle East Voices: COUNTERPOINT: A Different Take on Nasser and Egypt’s Copts:

To make it easier for the reader, the writer reproduces below the four main points in which he sees Nasser has damaged both Egypt and the Copts:

1. He ended Egypt’s first and only liberal era (1922-1952). During that democratic period, which was ushered by the 1919 Revolution, the Copts flourished, even though towards its ends the rise of Islamism dented their hopes and limited their participation.
2. Nasser’s socialist policies, contrary to what many think, did not help the Copts but destroyed much of their collective economic power. The nationalisation of big businesses and the redistribution of large lands hit the Copts severely. The Copts worked hard and honestly to reach that state of wealth; and even though the majority of the Copts remained poor, those wealthy Coptic families worked through internal charity and relationship with those in power to help and protect their less fortunate brethren. This has always been the case with the Coptic nation – the archons have always worked to ameliorate the condition of their poor.
3. The Arabist policies of Nasser hit hard at the Coptic identity and helped to undermine Egyptian identity in general. Unlike the Syrian Christians, the Copts never regarded themselves as Arab. ‘Egyptianity’ was the only general identity which could tie them up to their Muslim co-patriots. Arab nationalism was undoubtedly much better than Muslim nationalism as far the Copts were concerned but it held no appeal to the Copts unless they could be induced to forget about their long history and distinct identity. Nasser commenced a campaign of brain washing in Arabisation for which he used all his propaganda outlets, including media and schools.
4. Nasser got Egypt into unnecessary wars with the West and Israel. This had the impact of distancing Egypt from the democratic and liberal political culture of the West and held Egypt hostage to a never-ending status of war, which delayed any talk about democracy and human rights in Egypt and stunted Egypt’s economic revival. This forth factor had a general negative impact on all Egypt, and the Copts were affected negatively by it like all Egyptians were.

[i] The reader can consult the following works:

–          John H. Watson. Among the Copts (2002); p. 64.

–          Martyn Thomas, Adly A. Youssef. Copts in Egypt: a Christian minority under siege (2006); pp. 39-40.

–          Peter Mansfield. Nasser’s Egypt (1965); pp. 120-128.

–          Georgiana G. Stevens. Egypt, Yesterday and Today (1963); pp. 162-175.

[ii] For more on that, read: Dioscorus Boles (July 3, 2012): WHY COPTS BECOME MUSLIMS BY QUMMUS SERGIUS:


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