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RESEARCHERS HAVE OFTEN IGNORED THE OPINION OF THE COPTS: THE RECENT BBC ARABIC SURVEY AS AN EXAMPLE

June 27, 2019

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BBC News Arabic has recently published a survey it says is “the largest and most in-depth survey undertaken of the Middle East and North Africa”, and is published also on the BBC News website on 24 June 2019 under the title “The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion?” The survey actually is not about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), since it does not include Israel and Iran. It was undertaken across 10 so-called Arab countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019, and as the BBC says, it is “of Arab world opinion”. These countries are Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, and the Palestinian Authorities. As it is not about MENA, the reader will soon see it cannot be about many inside MENA minus Israel and Iran, and that it does not represent the Copts, who are not Arab, even as it talks about Egypt’s opinion.

The survey was conducted by the Arab Barometer research network which says it provides “insight into the social, political, and economic attitudes and values of ordinary citizens across the Arab World”. In this survey, the Arab Barometer interviewed 25, 407 people in the ten countries. The BBC published seven results with charts:

  1. The Rise of the non-religious
  2. Women can make national decisions, but not family ones
  3. “Honour killing” more acceptable than homosexuality
  4. Trump loses to Putin. Both dwarfed by Erdogan
  5. Israel is perceived as the great threat
  6. More people are thinking about emigrating
  7. They’re not all aiming for Europe

Egypt was not surveyed in relation to question 3, most probably because, as the BBC says, “For legal and cultural reasons some countries asked to drop some questions.” I will publish one of the results (number 5), and then discuss its relevance to the Copts:

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Result for the Egyptians surveyed in regard to the greatest threat as perceived by them is as follows: Israel, 54%; US, 18%; Iran, 18%; no country, 7%; and Saudi, 3%.[1]

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Now, one wonders if these result represents the Coptic opinion at all. The Arab Barometer says the survey is about “Arab opinion”. The Copts, of course are not Arab, but they live in a country dominated by Arabs. The Copts’ worldview does not necessarily coincide with that of the Muslims of Egypt. In this example the Copts undoubtedly don’t share in the opinion represented as that of the Egyptians, and which I believe are opinions of the Sunni Muslims of Egypt rather than opinion of “the Egyptians”. For example, the Copts definitely would not consider Israel as a threat. Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel and diplomatic relationship, and since 1973 there haven’t been any hostilities between the two countries. In fact, Egypt and Israel cooperate in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Equally, the Copts do not think of Iran, the far away country with which we have never been in war, as a threat to them or to Egypt (this threat really resides in the Sunni Muslim mind, fed by the historical sectarian animosity between the Sunna and Shia, and spread by the Arab Gulf states). The average Copt, instead, will consider Saudi Arabia as the greatest threat to him and to Egypt’s prospects for democracy, human rights and progress: it has been the sole agent since 1971 in spreading Wahabism (Salafism) and Islamic conservatism in Egypt.

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Statisticians and researchers who conduct socio-political studies in Egypt have always ignored the Copts, at least 15% of Egypt’s population, and not treated them as a distinct group with often different views from the Muslim Egyptians. They are often included in a causal way in research about “Arabs”. Being included, in surveys such as that conducted by Arab Barometer for the BBC, the obtained results can be erroneous (diluting or strengthening the results of the survey of Muslim Egyptians), and can mask what the Copts really think.

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[1] Percentages, apart from that of Israel, are deduced from the size of the circles.

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