THE CENTRAL BELIEF OF COPTIC NATIONALISM IS THAT THE COPTS CONSTITUTE A NATION
The central belief of Coptic nationalism that lies at the heart of its essence is that the Copts constitute a unique nation by ethnicity, history, heritage, language, heritage and religion. Now, this entails the secondary belief that Egypt is a multinational state: it is composed of Arab, Coptic and Nubian nations; but all united in one territorial patriotism in the same way, for instance, that Great Britain is made of four nations: English, Scots, Welsh and Irish.
No one would argue that the Copts do not possess unique language, religion and history (these are in themselves sufficient objective criteria for nationhood), but many will disagree that those who call themselves Arabs in Egypt are Arabs, and that they are rather descendants of the Copts who converted to Islam in the 13th century in droves. This is partially true – many of the Muslim Egyptians are ethnically Copts, particularly those Fellahin from Upper Egypt, but it cannot be ignored that many are descendants from Muslim peoples that immigrated to Egypt in large waves, and settled in it, during the last fourteen hundred years of Muslim rule and stayed distant from the Fellahin and their racial roots. Whatever the case, we don’t lay much emphasis on our uniqueness as a race – all who claim to be part of our ethnology are welcome to join. However, it does not make any sense that individuals, who claim to be Arab, and fix it in the constitution, want us to believe, at the same time, that they are not. It is this paradoxicality of thought, and multiplicity of speech, that we abhor and reject. Proponents of Arab nationalism try to project a different definition of an Arab, not based on race but on language, and so they call themselves Arab even if their racial roots or history before the Arab invasion of Egypt are different. We cannot understand this kind of allegiance and pride in the language, history and culture of a race that occupied and subdued their country and race.
Be it as it may, Coptic nationalism is not racist or religionist – it is not anti-Arab or even anti-Muslim: it does recognise Arab and Muslim contribution to the civilisation of the world, and regard those in Egypt, who profess to be Arab, as co-patriots.
The fact remains that the Copts are a nation that has been oppressed and treated differently by the Arabs and Muslims of Egypt – history tells us that, and history is the strongest criterion of nationhood. It is acknowledged that many modern Egyptians from our brethren in the Muslim side fight hard to remove all vestiges of persecution and oppression that have marred the relationship between us; and these we love and adore. It must be acknowledged, however, that many Muslims in Egypt, on the other hand, would like to reduce us shamelessly to a Dhimmi status; and others, while they may be ready to profess a theoretical equality between all Egyptian citizens regardless of race or religion, act differently in practice.
But making the case for our nationhood is not a call for insularity or non-cooperation with other Egyptian nationalities and contribution to Egypt’s development. We believe that Coptic nationality does not compete with Egyptian patriotism but is entirely compatible with it such as, for example, Welsh nationality does not contend with British patriotism or necessarily quarrel with English, Scottish and Irish nationalities. Rather than potentiating social segregation (which has never disappeared), Coptic nationality, by empowering the Copts and emphasising their individual civil and collective cultural rights, will lead to better relationship between all Egyptian nations and a solid union based on equality and respect.