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August 10, 2019


In two previous articles, The Epistle of Pope Shenouda III to the Coptic People on the Rightful Resistance to Injustice (following the massacre of the Copts in Suez 1952): Introduction and Text, I spoke about the pernicious nature of the calls for “national unity”, “unity of the two elements of the nation”, and said they were used only to silence the Copts while the Muslims continue their practices of injustice against the Copts. This, the young man, Nazir Jayyid, who is to become the future great Pope Shenouda III (1971 – 2012), understood in 1952 following the massacre of the Copts in Suez on 4 January 1952, which was followed by calls from both Muslims and traitor Copts in the government to the Copts to pay attention to the “unity of the two elements of the nation” and keep silent – a matter which outraged Jayyid.

The whole matter is a joke; and this was understood by even the enlightened Muslims, who made jokes on it. We have one such joke that came in the celebrated novel by the British author, John Fowles (1926 – 2005) in his Daniel Martin (1977). The protagonist in the novel is Daniel Martin, a Hollywood screenwriter, who goes in a visit to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon with his Oxford times student love, Jane, where the two reignite their love again. Their visit to Egypt was in the early 1970s before the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when Anwar Sadat was President (1970 – 1981) and Pope Shenouda III was Patriarch.

In Egypt Daniel and Jane were met by a Copt, Jimmy Assad, who worked in the local film industry, and had been in England before just after WWII: “A tall, bald man stood by a pillar. He was well-dressed, in a light mackintosh and dark suit; he had a moustache, a broad, flat face, faintly hooded eyes, a kind of aristocratic disdain for the less fortunate beings around them.”[1]

Assad has “a nice dryness both about himself and the faults of the United Arab Republic.”[2] Fowles observes or told by Assad: “Like the airport, Cairo was overcrowded, it was because of the war situation, so many refugees from the banks of the Suez.”[3] Jane asks if a resumption of hostilities [between Egypt and Israel] was likely. Assad answers: “You will see. In the newspapers. Every day it is going to happen tomorrow.” The eyelids drooped. “You think Mr Churchill made great speeches of war? You have not heard Sadat. Here we call him Victory Tomorrow, Dirt Today.” He slipped a look at Jane, twisted round from the front seat where he sat. “I say dirt for your sake, madame. Arabic is a frank language.”


Ah, tres bièn. Vous parlez français?”[4]

Assad invites Daniel and Jane to his home, where Assad’s Lebanese wife has prepared a meal. In the party are two other Egyptians, Muslims, from the Egyptian film world. One of them was the promised satirical playwright, Ahmed Sabry. The gathering is spent in political talk, and Egyptian humour predominates. One of Sabry’s jokes was about the farce “national unity”:

Sadat rings up the Coptic Patriarch.

“Your grace, we must stop using these words Muslim and Copt. We are all Egyptians. That is enough.”

“Yes, Mr President.”

“And by the way, I’ve decided to appoint Ibrahim Shafir as your bishop in Alexandria.”

“But he’s a Muslim Mr President!”

“There you are – using that word again!”[5]

In the Coptic Church the bishop of Alexandria is himself the Patriarch. Sadat, in the joke, wants to appoint, in effect, a Muslim Patriarch in place of Pope Shenouda III! All, of course, in the name of “national unity”.


[1] John Fowles, Daniel Martin (London, 1977), p. 512.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pp. 512-513.

[5] Ibid, pp. 523-524.

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