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January 9, 2020

 A Coptic nationalist  – that’s a Copt who believes that the Copts constitute a nation – believes that Egypt is not a nation-state (a state whose citizens belong to one nation) but a multinational state, comprised of three nations that are ethnically, historically and culturally distinct even if there are some commonalities between them: Arab, Nuba and Coptic nations. The Egyptian state, which is dominated by the Arabs, denies that Egypt is a multinational state and asserts that Egypt is a nation-state, that all citizens of Egypt constitute one nation. This is of course their attempt to deny their marginalisation and suppression of the other two nations in egypt, the Copts and the Nuba, They keep talking about “national unity”, and use it to threaten all who talk about the existence of other nationalities within Egypt. All this while the Arabs of Egypt, who dominate the state, have insisted on defining Egypt as Arab and Muslim.

It is important when discussing this matter to understand the meanings of terms used in such a discussion and their Arabic equivalent since in Egypt such terms are not well defined and often used interchangeably:

People (شعب): Individuals making up a group, usually linked by some common interest.

Nation ( قوم، أمة): A nation is a group of people who possess all or some of the objective criteria of nationhood, which could include commonality of race, language, religion, culture, history, territorial contiguity, and economic interests, and which help inculcate in the mental constitution of that people a unique situation that creates in them common feelings of belonging and pride, and a will to live together for the future in order to enjoy their special way of life and be able to defend themselves, and their way of life, against threats and aggressive behaviour of outsiders. A nation can be a cultural nation who does not aspire to separate and create a state of its own. When the cultural nation decides to make it its aim the creation of a national state of its own, it becomes a political nation. 

Nationalityلإنتماء القومي للشخص ويعرف بالجنسية): The status of belonging to a particular nation.

Nationalism (قومية): In its core definition, nationalism is the ideology that a group of people constitutes a nation.

Nation-state (دولة أحادية القومية): A state that contains only one nation within its borders. It is rare to find a genuine nation-state though many (multinational states) claim to be uninational.

Multinational state (دولة متعددة القوميات): A state that contains many nations within its borders. Some multinational states acknowledge themselves as multinational; others deny the fact.

Patrie (وطن): A person’s native country.

Patriotism (وطنية): The feeling of love,  devotion, or a sense of attachment by a person to his/her patrie.

The truth is that in Egypt there is no such thing as an Egyptian nation ( x أمة مصرية). It follows from this that there is no such thing as:

  • Egyptian nationality (x إنتماء قومي مصري)
  • Egyptian nationalism (x قومية مصرية)

The Coptic nationalist cannot subscribe to the idea of a Egyptian nationalism because there is no such thing as Egyptian nation. The Coptic nationalist, in asserting that there is no Egyptian nation, however, does not mean that there is no way for the three nations in Egypt to come together in a meaningful and collaborative way. It also does not mean, because there are three nations in Egypt and that there is neither nation-state in Egypt nor Egyptian nationality or Egyptian nationalism, that Egypt must be divided between the three. The solution to the oppression by a dominant nationality of other nationalities within a multinational state is not necessarily secession. We have detailed our proposed solution to the Coptic problem (that’s the problem of the Copts being oppressed by the Arabs of Egypt) elsewhere within this blog, and I would urge the reader to search it under “Coptic nationalism” or “cultural autonomy”.

So, if there is no such thing as a nation that unites all Egyptians, what then can unite all of them? The only thing that unites all Egyptians is not that they constitute one nation but the fact that they all live in one country – that is one patrie. We can all come under one umbrella – Egyptian patriotism (وطنية مصرية), not under the umbrella of an imagined Egyptian nationalism or one Egyptian nation. Those who insist that Egypt is one nation are those who deny the existence of the other nations in Egypt which do not want to be part of the Arab nation. In summary: the call for one Egyptian nation is the call of tyrants and oppressors.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherif permalink
    January 16, 2020 12:58 pm

    It doesn’t seem that the claim that there is no Egyptian nation has been sufficiently built up in your post.
    >A nation is a group of people who possess all or some of the objective criteria of nationhood, which could include commonality of race, language, religion, culture, history, territorial contiguity, and economic interests
    Besides religion, which of these do the vast majority of today’s Egyptians not share? The indigenous people of Nubia, Siwa, Sinai and some desert regions are exceptions of course, but people along the contiguous Nile valley as far south as Aswan have all the other markers in common. Some division exists between Upper and Lower Egypt, but it is relatively minor as far as nation building goes, in my opinion at least.
    I am in favor of a Multinational Egypt, with justice for the aforementioned isolated groups in mind; but I can’t help but see specifically the division between Coptic and “Arab” Egyptians as artificial, especially with the thousand+ years of assimilation that have taken place.
    It would be nice to discuss about this.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      January 16, 2020 8:09 pm

      Thank you. The Copts and the Muslims of Egypt are different. The Copts constitute a nation distinct and separate from the Muslims of Egypt exactly because they differ in several objective criteria if nationhood and also because they show clear signs of the subjective criteria of nationhood. The Copts are different from the Muslims of Egypt (and I include as examples here famous individuals like Muhammad Ali, Ibrahim Pasha, Ismail Pasha, ‘Urabi Pasha, Mustafa Kamil, Mohammad Farid, Salad Zaghlul, King Farouq, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Mursi and Sisi) in race, history, religion, language (true the Copts speak Arabic now but they have not forgotten their Coptic language and all hate the fact they speak Arabic rather than Coptic), music, culture, traditions, family law, etc, etc. One of these objective criteria is often enough to mark a people as a nation: Pakistan built its nationhood on the criterion of religion alone. At the end of the day, a people is a nation if it sees itself as a nation.

      The Muslims of Egypt, rather than try to show us that we are not a nation, should at least be satisfied that we regard ourselves a ‘cultural’ nation and not a ‘political’ one: that’s, we want to be acknowledged as a cultural collective entity in Egypt, and we don’t put secession from Egypt as a goal for us.

      Egypt is multinational whether the Muslims and Arabs if Egypt admit it or not – and we constitute one major, big nation within this collection of nations.

      Our rights as a cultural nation must be acknowledged and not be doubted by the Muslims and Arabs.

      I say that with all due respect, and add that we can live together and cooperate with the other nations of Egypt under the banner of Egyptian patriotism – but, first, the dominant Muslim majority must stop trying to deny us our nationhood.


    • Zack Shenouda permalink
      January 18, 2020 3:01 pm


      Copts are distinct ethnically as well. Copts on DNA23andme keep scoring the majority of their distribution within the “Coptic Egyptian” Component while noncopts from Egypt don’t. The “modern Egyptian(noncopt)” signature is a product post 7th century AD ethnogenesis, while the Coptic Egyptian signature is original.

      Also Copts form their own cluster on the PCA plot & don’t genetically cluster with noncopts from Egypt.

      The genetic difference between Copts & noncopts in Egypt is much larger than the difference between English & Irish. Copts are the original people of Egypt & noncopts are not.

      The difference between Copts and noncopts is one of the sharpest ones in Egypt & one of the most obvious. It’s not artificial at all. How on earth can an artificial difference produce so much conflict & discontent between these groups? To claim this difference is artificial is an insult to our intelligence.

      The “assimilation” you speak of didn’t really happen. If it did, then that would have entailed them(noncopts) assimilating to the indigenous culture of the land(Coptic culture), which they have not. The intermarriage between Copts & noncopts has been historically limited.

      Yes Copts do have their own distinct culture.

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