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August 7, 2012

Why, where, when and how – these are the great questions asked whenever the subject of an independent Coptic state is put forward for discussion.[1] The “Why” question seems to many Copts to have been satisfied: the continuing and escalating violence against the Copts; the ongoing oppression and discrimination; the lack of a real effort from Muslim Egyptian society and rulers to put an end to the plight of the Copts; the repeated disappointments they get from their compatriots, again and again and again, and yet again … ; all this makes Copts despair of a credible possibility of a secular, democratic Egypt where they will be treated as equal partners within the one Egyptian state. That is why we have said before that many Copts now believe that the moral, mental and intellectual foundations of a Coptic homeland are being laid down, slowly but surely.[2] There remains, however, much to be answered: Where should that homeland be established? When should we launch it? And how should we go about working to achieve it? These are difficult questions, and no one has ready or easy answers for them. Nevertheless, they are legitimate questions that must be discussed, even though at our own pace.

The Copts must not allow anyone to intimidate them – they must dare to think; and they must not feel guilty for doing so. There can be nothing greater in our foreseeable future than the issue of whether we want to continue to live under a state dominated and ruled exclusively by Muslims and Arabs or seek to establish an independent Coptic state where we, rather than others, rule ourselves.

Self-determination is a right enshrined in international law by which nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference. No one has got the right to deny us this right. But nations ought to use it responsibly; furthermore, having the right does not necessarily imply its use. Having said that, union cannot be forced on nations – in a multinational state, the dominant majority needs to make union attractive. When it fails to endear itself to minorities, and to treat them with dignity and respect, and allow them equal rights and freedoms, it will have itself only to blame if oppressed minorities sought secession. The case of Sudan must be pertinent to Egypt: the mostly Arab North failed to make unity attractive[3] for the South Sudanese – in fact, it made it rather repulsive; and that is why South Sudan was created in 2011.

[1] I would like to thank my friend Distressed Copt for inspiring this article.

[2] See Dioscorus Boles (4 August 2012): The Partition of Egypt May be the Solution

[3] The phrase “making unity attractive” was actually included in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (or the Naivasha Agreement), 2005. It was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. The regime of Omar al-Bashir was supposed to alter its older attitudes and mistreatment of the Southern Sudanese and convince them that in the following six years unity would secure their dignity, equality and freedom. As we know, Bashir failed miserably, and the South Sudan became an independent state on 9 July 2011.

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