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June 17, 2019

Morsi, Egypt’s ex-president, has died. May God rest his soul in peace. When Morsi was elected president on 30 June 2012, we disagreed with him; and despite his announcement that he would be president for all Egyptians, he worked only for the Islamists, and engaged in establishing a majoritarian rule and making Egypt more Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood had never really believed in democracy – the only thing they liked in democracy is its majority principle. All other principles of democracy, including human rights and the rights of minorities, they did not know. What they had for us in store was what they called the “dhimmitude status”, which is a status of inferiority, humiliation and inequality. Therefore, we resisted him, and we shared in the popular demobstrations of 30 June 2013. And despite we welcomed the interference of the army to put an end to the Islamist rule, we were hoping that the army will only guarantee a transition of government to a fully democratic.

Little did we know that the army was playing a game and was intriguing to keep the power of the state in its hands, resuming the military rule that had been inaugurated more than sixty years earlier by the military coup of Nasser.

We did not want Morsi arrested, for at least he was elected democratically. We did not want too that the Islamists’ sit-in at Rab’aa be dispersed by such massacre that was entirely avoidable.

We are against all forms of dictatorship whether civilian, as that of the Muslim Brotherhood, or military, as that of Sisi. Egypt will not progress without democracy; and we strongly believe that the Coptic Question will not be solved under any form of dictatorship.

Any true Copt, who is politically astute and educated, and who is aware of his nation’s situation and history, will work for a multi-national state of Egypt that is democratic and modern.


June 16, 2019

Egypt’s military rulers will not allow the revival of the Coptic language, and therefore we are against it, not just for this but as one of the main reasons. The revival of Coptic will not happen exept under democracy; and all Copts who want Coptic revived as a national language, acknowledged by the state, must know this.


June 14, 2019

Amelia Edwards.PNG

Amelia Edwards (1831 – 1892)

Amelia Edwards (1831 – 1892) was an English Egyptologist and a co-founder[1] of the Egypt Exploration Fund (later, the Egypt Exploration Society), in 1882 – an organisation that advocated for research and preservation of ancient Egyptian monuments. She visited Egypt for the first time in 1873, before the British Occupation in 1882, and she travelled up and down the Nile, a journey which she described in her book, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877). And in this journey, she met many Copts, both clergy and laity, and she was impressed by their character.

Ever since Edward William Lane, who show interest in meeting Copts, published his An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, with its biased and inaccurate account on the Copts, many Westerners copied him ad verbum, including Lord Cromer in his Modern Egypt (1908), thus spreading his morbid prejudice, and causing quite a lot of damage to the reputation of the Copts – Copts were represented as bigots and evil:

One of the most remarkable traits in the character of the Copts is their bigotry. They bear a bitter hatred to all other Christians, even exceeding that with which the Muslims regard the unbelievers in El-Islam. … They are, generally speaking of a sullen temper, extremely avaricious, and abominable dissemblers; cringing or domineering according to circumstances. … [They are] generally ignorant, deceitful, faithless, and abandoned to the pursuit of worldly gain, and to indulgence in sensual pleasures.[2]

Amelia Edwards, however, will have none of this. She had first-hand experience with the Copts up and down the Nile, and she would not buy Lane’s pernicious prejudice:

The Copts are said to be sullen in manner, and so bigoted that even a Moslem is less an object of dislike to them than a Christian of any other denomination. However this may be, we saw nothing of it. We experienced, on the contrary, many acts of civility from the Copts with whom we were brought into communication.[3]


[1] The other co-founder was Reginald Stuart Poole (1832 – 1895), who worked at the British Museum.

[2] Edward William Lane: An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, written in Egypt during the years 1833, -34, and -35; Charles Knight & Co.; London; 1936; Volume II, pp. 334-335.

[3]  A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards (London, Century Publishing, 1982); p. 464.


June 14, 2019

John Ward (1832 – 1912) was another English Egyptologist who supported the Coptic demands for justice during the Consul-Generalship of Eldon Gorst (1907 – 1911), and wrote a chapter in Kyriakos Mikhail’s book, Copts Under British Rule (1911), titled The Native Christians of Egypt. Ward has published a few books, including Pyramids and Progress: Sketches from Egypt (1900), The Sacred Beetle: a popular treatise on Egyptian scarabs in art and history (1902), and Our Sudan: Its Pyramids and Progress (1905).

Ward has the highest regards for the Copts. As if addressing those anti-Copts, such as Lord Cromer, who had never showed interest in the Copts or mixed with them, and who had had no good word for them, he says:

When people who know them well, such as Professor Sayce[1] and Mrs. Butcher[2] (who have spent much of their lives in, or working for, Egypt), vouch for the domestic virtues and honest, peaceful lives of the Copts, we can fully trust their confidence in this remnant of the ancient Christianity of the country.

But Ward does not rely on others for his views on the character of the Copts: he has mixed with the Copts of Asyut in Upper Egypt, visited them at their homes and known them very well from firsthand experience:

Few of the annual tourists visit Asyut. It is almost a Coptic (i.e. Christian) town. There the influential folk are Copts, and by their industry, honesty, and their intelligence and cleverness, they flourish, and many become rich in houses and lands and are able to educate their sons, sending them recently to English schools and universities. It is an interesting thing to visit the Copts in their own homes. The Christian virtues are all practised. The man a husband of one wife. The lady of the house sits beside her husband at the family meals. The daughters, equally educated and equally valued with the sons. This sort of life is a sharp contrast to the Moslem system, where the poor women are despised or hidden away as something to be ashamed of. In the society of Christian families at Asyut I have spent most happy hours indeed, having been introduced to them by my friend, Professor Sayce, who had long known them.

Ward’s report on the Copts, their moral and mental character, their family values and respect for their wives and love for their children, undermines such reports by anti-Copts like Edward William Lane and Lord Cromer. But let’s read what he had to say in its entirety:



I am glad to see that the Copts are at length coming forward to plead their claim that justice be done them. A people who have undergone persecution for 1500 years may bear traces of a down-trodden state of existence of many centuries in their demeanour of to-day. Still, they earn our Christian sympathies. Their cause, those who know them believe, is well worth their efforts, and should have full support and sympathy from Christians of every phase of faith. When people who know them well, such as Professor Sayce and Mrs. Butcher (who have spent much of their lives in, or working for, Egypt), vouch for the domestic virtues and honest, peaceful lives of the Copts, we can fully trust their confidence in this remnant of the ancient Christianity of the country.

The Copts suffer from certain disabilities under the British rule in Egypt which ought to be remedied, or our good name for justice and fair play will suffer. The survival of the Egyptian Christians under the tyranny of Moslem bigotry of over a thousand years is a wonderful fact. There are barely a million of them now — there must have been twenty millions at one time — ere they were crushed by Moslem persecution.

Now that a Christian Power has brought the ancient land back to prosperity, it is the duty of that Power to give even-handed justice to this remnant of the ancient Christianity which once pervaded the whole land from the Mediterranean to Khartoum. The ruins of ancient Christian churches are found all along the Nile, and I have seen, at Soba, on the Blue Nile, the remains of an important church bearing the cross upon its capitals. When Kitchener subdued the Mahdi hordes there were no Christians to be seen, any few left beyond the First Cataract were in hiding from Dervish cruelty between Assuan and Omdurman.

Few of the annual tourists visit Asyut. It is almost a Coptic (i.e. Christian) town. There the influential folk are Copts, and by their industry, honesty, and their intelligence and cleverness, they flourish, and many become rich in houses and lands and are able to educate their sons, sending them recently to English schools and universities. It is an interesting thing to visit the Copts in their own homes. The Christian virtues are all practised. The man a husband of one wife. The lady of the house sits beside her husband at the family meals. The daughters, equally educated and equally valued with the sons. This sort of life is a sharp contrast to the Moslem system, where the poor women are despised or hidden away as something to be ashamed of. In the society of Christian families at Asyut I have spent most happy hours indeed, having been introduced to them by my friend, Professor Sayce, who had long known them.

Acting on the advice of English friends, the Copts have formed a Coptic Society, with a branch in London, for giving general information about their brethren in Egypt. They have purchased the rights of Mrs. Butcher’s admirable ‘Story of the Church in Egypt,’ and hope to introduce these volumes to the notice of Christian visitors to the Nile. They have secured the powerful aid of Professor Sayce, who has been an annual visitor to Egypt for thirty years. They hope to get their modest demands, viz. equal consideration with the Moslems, granted by the British rulers of Egypt by advocating their claims firmly but modestly, as ’tis their nature to. At present their children are compelled, in many districts, to learn the Koran in the schools which they are taxed to support.

The British education authorities seem anxious to Moslemise these Christian children, and they should have our sympathy, being their fellow Christians.

I have visited the excellent schools of the American Mission at Asyut. No such system is followed there — but then they want to promote Christianity, while the British education authorities seem to desire to stamp it out. This must be remedied, and no doubt will be. Then there are other (unwritten) laws which prevent Copts of high character and brilliant parts from filling the higher offices such as Mudir (Governor of a Province) or Mamour (Governor of a District) — all these restrictions ought to be removed. Recently a Copt of high position and universally esteemed was elected as Prime Minister of Egypt. The Mohammedan bigots had him assassinated, and some of their newspapers went so far as to extol his murderer into a hero. This conduct should show our educational authorities in Egypt what their system of teaching Moslem tenets to Christian children may lead to.

I wish these interesting fellow Christians every success in their most estimable efforts to obtain fair play for their countrymen.


Since the above was written important events have occurred. Sir Eldon Gorst, a good, honest gentleman, who tried to please all parties and satisfied none, is dead, worn out with his ungrateful task. It was difficult to succeed Lord Cromer, the regenerator of Egypt.

The Copts are now likely to be treated with the consideration they deserve. Lord Kitchener has become the British Agent,[4] in this capacity practically ruling the whole Nile Valley, from the Mediterranean to the Equator. One of the bravest and most upright of men, utterly free from bigotry and partisanship, there is little doubt but when he has time to study the Coptic question that what these poor folk — the survivors of the earliest converts to Christianity — demand, only fair play, will reach them at last.

They have shown themselves to be loyal subjects and grateful for all the blessings which the Anglo-Egyptian Administration have brought to their native land, and certainly deserve equality with their Moslem fellow-countrymen.


[1] Rev. Archibald Henry Sayce (1845 – 1933), the famous English Assyriologist and Egyptologist.

[2] Edith Louisa Butcher (1854 – 1933), the author of The Story of the Church of Egypt (London, 1897).

[3] Kyriakos Mikhail, Copts Under British Rule (London, 1911), pp. 14-18.

[4] Herbert Kitchener, the Conqueror of Sudan, succeeded Eldon Gorst, after the latter’s death in 1911, and remained in his position until 1914.


June 14, 2019


Alfred Joshua Butler (1850 – 1936)

Alfred Joshua Butler (1850 – 1936), the English historian and scholar who has written the celebrated Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt (Oxford, 1884) and The Arab Conquest of Egypt (Oxford, 1902), was a great Coptophile. He liked the Copts (he described himself as ‘friend of the Copts’), understood their history and appreciated and respected their qualities and character. He further was supportive of the Coptic demands for justice under the British rule of Egypt.

Butler wrote a short but important Introduction to Kyriakos Mikhail’s book, Copts and Moslems Under British Rule (1911), which he applauded as a clear and dispassionate statement of the Coptic grievances and the Coptic claims. Butler criticises in his Introduction the “pernicious bias” by which the British government in Egypt treats its different races and creeds. The Copts suffered from “substantial and serious injustices under British rule”. The government had a plan that showed “indiscriminate favour to Muslims”; and it treated the Copts “with stern disfavour” and turned “a deaf ear to all remonstrance.” The British policy, which was introduced by Sir Eldon Gorst (Consul-General, 1907 – 1911) had been, he says, “To exalt the Mohammedan and to tread down the Christian, to license the majority and to curb the minority, is the policy which our Government has not avowed but practised, and presumably has deemed consistent with British traditions of upholding justice, impartiality, and equality before the law, for all the governed.”

On the qualities and character of the Copts, Butler says, as if addressing Lord Cromer’s assail on the Copts in his Modern Egypt[1]:

[H]aving known the Copts for upwards of thirty years, I have the highest opinion of their capacity and their character, and I do not believe that their best men are in any way disqualified for holding posts of the highest responsibility. Of course it is an essential condition that anyone holding such a post, whether Copt or Muslim, should be able to reckon confidently on the reasonable support of the Government. But if that can be counted upon, as it ought, I for one should have no fear that a Coptic Mudir or Mamur would fail in tact or in justice, in kindliness or in courage.



This little work presents a clear and dispassionate statement of the Coptic grievances and the Coptic claims. I venture strongly to recommend it to all fair-minded persons who desire to know the truth, and particularly to those who have been misled by British official reports or utterances into the belief that the grievances of the Copts are shadowy and unreal.

So far is this from being the case, so substantial and so serious are the injustices which the Copts suffer from under British rule, and which in a large measure have been created by British rule, that I do not hesitate to say that their position as an oppressed minority is a standing discredit and reproach to our boasted methods of government.

The plan has been to show indiscriminate favour to the Muslims — with the not unnatural result of turning many of them into enemies of England and the English occupation, to treat the Copts with stern disfavour, and to turn a deaf ear to all remonstrance.

For, strange as it may sound, the Copts have been refused a hearing. Such a denial of common justice would seem incredible if it were not unquestionable. But it is the simple fact that both the Khedive and the British Agent in Egypt declined to receive a deputation from the Copts, and that when the Copts, who were thus condemned unheard, resolved to appeal to Caesar, they were informed by Sir Edward Grey[3] that such matters must be settled on the spot. In other words, when a miscarriage of justice was alleged in Egypt and when the local authorities refused not merely redress but even a hearing to the sufferers, the British Government at home rejected all petition for inquiry on the ground that the refusal of a hearing by the Egyptian tribunal is final. It is an extraordinary example of that pernicious bias which seems to warp the whole policy of our Government in dealing with the different races and creeds in Egypt.

It seemed therefore, to myself, and to some other friends of the Copts, that the only resource left to them was to make an appeal through the public press to all those who, in these islands and beyond them, love fair play, and who cannot soothe their conscience with the doctrine that ‘ minorities must suffer’ when they see nearly a million Christians in Egypt denied equality of treatment and equality of opportunity with their Muslim compatriots.

Such, then, is the reason for this book. As far as I am able to judge, its tone is admirably calm and temperate, and the author has been obviously careful to avoid any expressions to which a Muslim reader might take exception. And this principle of avoiding all wild and wounding words is one which I hope will continue to govern all discussions, whether in the public press or out of it, between Christian and Muslim. For, through all the clouds and storms of persecution which have darkened and depressed the fortunes of the Copts, the teaching of history is clear, that Copt and Muslim have no innate antagonism, that each has qualities worthy of the respect of the other, and that the two can live together and work together for the common good of their country in unity and amity.

And on this point let me say one word. It is not my intention here to argue any of the questions debated in this book ; but having known the Copts for upwards of thirty years, I have the highest opinion of their capacity and their character, and I do not believe that their best men are in any way disqualified for holding posts of the highest responsibility. Of course it is an essential condition that anyone holding such a post, whether Copt or Muslim, should be able to reckon confidently on the reasonable support of the Government. But if that can be counted upon, as it ought, I for one should have no fear that a Coptic Mudir or Mamur would fail in tact or in justice, in kindliness or in courage.

But it is sad and humiliating to reflect that the friendly union of Copts and Muslims was practically an achieved result before the British occupation of Egypt,[4] and that it has been destroyed by the policy of the British Government. To exalt the Mohammedan and to tread down the Christian, to license the majority and to curb the minority, is the policy which our Government has not avowed but practised, and presumably has deemed consistent with British traditions of upholding justice, impartiality, and equality before the law, for all the governed. Sir Eldon Gorst, the exponent of this policy, has just passed away, and all criticism of his public life must yield for the moment to sympathy and to admiration of the gallant spirit in which he held his post to the end.

But his departure cannot fail to open a new chapter in the administration of Egypt: and every friend of the Egyptians, whether Mohammedan or Christian, may reasonably hope for a new era, in which the confessed errors of our recent policy may be rectified, and in which Muslims and Copts may be treated with equal regard as members of a single community who have to work together in mutual tolerance and mutual respect for the union and prosperity of their country.



[1] Cromer, Evelyn Baring, Earl of , Modern Egypt (London, 1908).

[2] Kyriakos Mikhail, The Copts Under British Rule (London, 1911), pp. xi-xiv.

[3] Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon (1862 – 1933). He was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916.

[4] Much improvement in the way Copts were treated was introduced by Muhammad Ali (1805 – 1948) and then Ismail Pasha (1863 – 1879).


June 13, 2019


The great Egyptologist and Coptophile, Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942)

William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942), an English archaeologist, and the Father of Egyptian archaeology, was a Coptophile. Petrie spent the years from 1884 to 1928 mainly in Egypt, and written a total of 97 books, the majority of them on Egyptian topics.

Petrie had a great respect for the Copts, the direct descendants of the Pharaonic race. In the Preface written by the eminent archaeologist Re. Archibald Henry Sayce for Kyriakos Mikhail’s book, The Copts Under British Rule, quotes a remark by Petrie on the Copts:

[T]he fact that through all these centuries of persecution the Copts should nevertheless have not only maintained themselves, but have even made themselves indispensable to their Mohammedan masters, is both a testimony to their extraordinary ability and a proof that they are indeed the children of their Egyptian fathers. They have kept alive the old traditions of education and culture through centuries of darkness, along with the Christian conception of family morality and all that this implies.[1]

I have been trying to dig this quotation out from Petrie’s many publications, but so far have not be able to locate this particular quote; however, in Petrie’s book, Ten Years’ Digging in Egypt (1892), I found a few references to the Copts. Petrie talks about the fanaticism of the Muslim Egyptian:

Islam is all in all to the fellah: the unbelievers he looks on as a miserable minority; and it is only the unpleasant fact that they cannot be crushed at present that prevents his crushing them, and asserting the supremacy of Islam. A clever Arab once remarked to me concerning a department which was mismanaged by European direction, ‘How much better it would be to have an Arab over it!’ But on my asking where he could find a native whose corruption would not be far worse than the present rule, he could but reluctantly give in. This fanatical feeling of dislike to the Nusrani, or Nazarene, was the mainstay of Arabi’s revolt; and the very existence of such a feeling shows how dangerous it might become if fed on success. The children unintentionally reveal what is the tone and talk of the households in private; they constantly greet the European with howls of Ya Nusrani (‘O Nazarene’), the full force of which title is felt when your donkey-boy urges on his beast by calling it, ‘Son of a dog! son of a pig! son of a Nazarene!’ Any abuse will do to howl at the infidel, and I have been for months shouted at across every field as Ya khawaga mefales! (‘bankrupt foreigner’), because I preferred walking to the slow jolt of a donkey. The fact that dozens of the villagers were depending on me for good pay all the time did not seem to weigh in the youthful mind, compared with the pleasure of finding a handy insult. This temper, if not held down, might easily rise in the arrogance of its ignorance to such a height as to need a much sharper lesson than it has ever received. That a massacre of the Coptic Christians was fully anticipated by them when Arabi drove out the foreigners, is a well-known matter of history, which should not be lightly forgotten.[2]

Petrie was not the first one to write about the expected massacre of the Copts in the Arabi Rebellion had the British not intervened and saved them from that fate. Petrie demonstrates the fanaticism of the Muslims of Egypt which form an important part of the general Muslim character, and which, though always present, can erupt into violence at any time against the Christian. The characterisation of the Muslims of Egypt by Petrie is accurate to a large extent, and is still observable in many Muslims in contemporary Egypt, more than 120 years after Petrie had written his book.

Muslim education of that period, and the same holds true to a large extent in religious schools of today, only consolidates that negative picture in the Muslim character:

Unfortunately the result of education is rather to spoil than to develop natural ability. Of the very few peasants I have met with who had been taught to write, two were fools in other matters, all common sense and ability appearing to have been crushed out of them. Nor is this at all surprising, when we know that the cardinal part of Muslim education is the learning of the pointless prolixities of the Koran by heart, as a pure matter of rote, without the use of the reason or intellect. To burden a child’s mind with such a fearful task is enough to ruin it, if not strong. It is a sad sight to see the whole of the coming intellects of a town rocking themselves to and fro while they gabble through sura after sura of the Koran in a gusty sing-song voice without pause or point ; and then to reflect that this is the end and aim of nearly all their education.[3]

Coptic education, however, is different:

The native Coptic schools are the only encouraging sight of indigenous training; and the ability shown by some of their boys is astonishing.[4]

In a special chapter titled, The Active Tripper in Egypt, Petrie gives practical advice to travelers to Egypt and while encouraging them to travel, he warns them of certain matters. In case of emergencies, Petrie advises his readers to go to station-masters or post-maters, who are largely Copts, for help, which they will certainly receive:

The above details are of course only supplementary to the usual guide-book information. But there is no real difficulty likely to be met with in roughing it thus; and in case of emergencies the station-masters or post-masters can be appealed to, as they all understand English or French. Many of them have been in Europe, and I may say that I have received much kindness and friendliness from these excellent officials, who are largely Coptic Christians. They are above the common greed for petty bakhshish; though of course kindness may be recognized by a book, photographs, or other presents, as to a European official.[5]


I think more on Petrie’s views on the Copts are out there, and will be revealed in time.

[1] Kyriakos Mikhail, The Copts Under British Rule (London, 1911), p. ix.

[2] W M Flinders Petrie, Ten Years’ Digging in Egypt, 1881-1891 (1892), pp. 173-4.

[3] Ibid, pp. 184-5.

[4] Ibid, p. 185.

[5] Ibid, p. 194.


June 12, 2019

Edith Louisa Butcher (or Mrs. E. L. Butcher) (1854 – 1933) is a known Coptophile. She wrote her celebrated “The Story of the Church of Egypt” in 1987, a monumental work in two volumes (Vol. One Vol. Two).[1] Married in 1896 to Rev. Charles henry Butcher of Cairo (Chaplain of the Anglican, All Saints Church, in Azbakiyya, Cairo, from 1880 to 1907) she moved to Cairo with him. She finished her great book “just about the time of my marriage to the Dean,[2] else, as I afterwards told him, it would certainly never have been finished at all.”[3]

In 1911, she wrote a short history of the Copts, which she title, In the House of Bondage: A Short Sketch of Coptic History.[4] This useful synopsis of Coptic history, she wrote to comprise Chapter 1 of Kyriakos Mikhail’s Copts Under British Control (1911), which he wrote to explain to the British public the injustices caused to the Copts by the policies of Egypt’s second British Consul-General, Sir Eldon Gorst (1907 – 1911). It is a useful short history of the Copts for the reader with not much time at his hands, and for this type of reader, I publish it here. An interesting part of the history includes her criticism of the prevailing British policy vis-à-vis the Copts. The Copt she is not shy to say, “is the indigenous native, the true owner of the land of Egypt: the Arab is the intruder, supposed to be a descendent of the Arab invaders.”[5]



According to ancient tradition, which there seems to be no reason to dispute, the Gospel was preached in Egypt by St. Peter, who placed St. Mark the Evangelist at Alexandria as the founder of the Church in that country. For several centuries the Church of Alexandria was the foremost Church in Christendom in energy and learning.

One may roughly say that nothing in Egypt is ever what it is called, and its National Church is no exception to this rule. The words ‘Copt’ and ‘Coptic’ are unknown to the Egyptian Christian until he learns them from the passing European. They are a corruption of the word ‘Egyptian’ and indicate nationality, not creed. As ‘Aigyptos’ was the Greek form of one of the names of Memphis, ‘Ha-ka-ptah,’ which was afterwards applied to the inhabitants of the whole country, so ‘Gupti’ and ‘Guptan’ were the Arabic corruptions of the root which remains in our language as ‘Egypt’ and ‘Egyptian’ These Arabic words the European tourists have further altered to ‘Copt’ and ‘Coptic,’ and in this way the Egyptian Church has come to be known in Europe as the Coptic Church. The Copt is the indigenous native, the true owner of the land of Egypt: the Arab is the intruder, supposed to be a descendant of the Arab invaders. It is for this reason that all the members of the National Church refer to themselves as ‘the nation’ and their boast is true, though it is not the whole truth.

At the time of St. Mark’s first visit to Egypt, that country was a province of the Roman Empire, and continued to be so till the death of the Emperor Theodosius (A.D. 395), when the empire was divided between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Egypt went with the eastern division of the empire, henceforth known as the Byzantine Empire. Up till the reign of Theodosius, the Patriarch or Pope of Alexandria was the recognised doyen of the Universal Christian Church. There had been no formal settlement of precedence, but for the first two centuries the five sees of the first rank had been Alexandria, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Caesarea, and of these Alexandria was generally reckoned the first, while by a canon of Nicea, Jerusalem (Elia) was ranked second. Rome had always shown some jealousy of the precedence of Alexandria, and the more civilised popes of the latter city had generally shown a courteous readiness to yield the point.

But the real leadership, and the encyclical letter which yearly fixed the date of Easter, came at first from Alexandria.

When Constantine became a Christian, his new Imperial city at once took rank with the earlier Patriarchates. At the Council of Nicea (a.d. 325) the first blow was given to the prestige of Alexandria by the adoption of the Western date for the celebration of Easter. Ever since that time the ecclesiastical power of Rome increased, while Alexandria and Constantinople were weakened by constant troubles. Rome owed much to the fact that the Arian Emperors did not consider her of so much importance as Alexandria and turned their strength against the Egyptian Pope. At the Council of Sardica in 343 (not acknowledged as oecumenical) Rome had succeeded in getting a canon passed which provided for an appeal to the Pope of Rome as a referee in certain disputed cases, and at the Council of Constantinople, held in the reign of Theodosius, she determined to insist on a formal recognition of her claim, not to supremacy, for that was never allowed, but to priority. Theodosius was anxious not to offend the Western Emperor, but stipulated that his own Imperial city should rank second. A canon was therefore passed at this Council (a.d. 381) which gave Rome the primacy, Constantinople the second place, and degraded Alexandria to the third place in the order of precedence. Timothy, the Pope of Alexandria at that time, indignantly left the Council and withdrew with his bishops to Egypt.

This, however, led to no lasting disagreement between the different branches of the Church, which remained one for nearly a century longer. Though from the Western point of view the Egyptian Church was the first to break away from the Christian comity, from her own she is the unchanged primitive Church as defined by the Council of Nicea, having faithfully resisted the innovations and pretensions of Rome. The separation which took place at the Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451) was no doubt a political rather than a religious difference. An accusation of heresy was, in that age, the only weapon thought powerful enough to crush the Egyptian Pope. Even this failed. Dioscorus of Alexandria was not crushed: he refused to submit, like the Greeks, to the Roman Pope, and broke off all connection with Europe.

The heresy for which he was ostensibly condemned is known as the Monophysite heresy, or the heresy of ‘ One Nature ‘; but the name does not describe accurately the difference, which turns on the use of ‘ in ‘ or ‘ of .’ The Egyptians, like their opponents, acknowledged, and acknowledge, that Christ was God and Man. They only say that both natures were united in Him, instead of being co-existent in Him; and that therefore it is irreverent to speak of two natures, as that implies imperfect union, whereas in Him there was no imperfection, the two natures were absolutely one God-Man. The whole squabble, which had such serious consequences for the Church, began with the persecution of an old abbot named Eutyches, whom the Greeks and Romans insisted on excommunicating for talking in this way, and whose cause Dioscorus had espoused.[6]

As Dioscorus refused to submit to the decision of the Council, the Empress Pulcheria and her consort Marcian proceeded to disestablish the National Church of Egypt, and to confiscate all of the property belonging to it on which they could lay hands. This and most of the Churches were handed over to that small minority of the Egyptians who consented to accept the decision of the Council and acknowledge Proterius, the man who was consecrated Patriarch by the four Egyptian bishops who had yielded to the Emperor, and been charged to convey the Imperial mandate to Egypt. This small minority formed what was afterwards called the Melkite, or Imperial Church, as opposed to the National Church. From this time the National Church of Egypt has maintained her independent existence and kept alive the embers of patriotism in the true Egyptians even in the darkest hours of her history. Egypt has been under foreign masters for more than two thousand years, but occasionally has made real efforts to regain her lost independence.

One of the most nearly successful took place in the closing years of the sixth century, when three Egyptian, or, as they would now be called, Coptic, brothers, Abaskiron, Menas, and James, threw off the yoke of Byzantium and established an independent government in northern Egypt for a year or two. This was ended by the capture of the three brothers, who were at once beheaded, and with their death the hope of freedom came to an end, though other risings took place shortly afterwards. In 620, or 616 according to some authorities, Egypt was occupied by the Persians for ten years. It was subsequently recovered by the Emperor Heraclius, who sent a man called Cyrus to assume the government of Egypt both as Patriarch of the Melkite Church, and apparently, as viceroy for himself in civil matters ; but the end of the Byzantine dominion was at hand. Cyrus found that one appointment neutralised the other; no true Egyptian would acknowledge the authority of an alien Patriarch nor fight for their Byzantine masters against the invading Moslems. They looked on, with an indifference which has cost them dear; while Cyrus, unable to hold the country against Amr, made terms for the escape of the Byzantines and left the Egyptians at the mercy of the Moslem host.

Thus, in the December of the year 641, Egypt passed under the Moslem yoke from which she has never been able to free herself, and under which her civilisation, her learning, and her religion have been slowly crushed out. For more than two hundred years the Christian Egyptians or Copts were oppressed by a comparatively small though always increasing number of aliens ; then in the year 830 the Egyptians made one last effort to regain their long lost independence. They obtained a sufficient measure of success to alarm the Kaliph thoroughly. He sent large reinforcements to the Moslem troops, and finally came in person to reconquer the country. The patriotic but undisciplined Egyptians, who for centuries had not been allowed to bear arms, fought desperately but hopelessly. They were driven back point by point to Babylon where they stood a protracted siege. Eventually, however, the place was carried by storm, every male was put to the sword, and all the women and children carried as slaves to Baghdad.

Then the conquerors revenged themselves with pitiless ferocity throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. Many were slain, many were carried away and sold as slaves in other countries, and many of the baser sort saved themselves by apostasy, so that the Christians were left for the first time in a minority in the land. Hitherto the Moslems had only been found in the army and among the residents in the principal towns of Egypt, but from this time forth the country population began to fall away from the faith, while the Arabs settled in many of the villages and began to cultivate the land.

From the ninth century until the nineteenth the history of the Copts is one of constantly recurring persecution and oppression at the hands of their Moslem masters, whether Arab, Circassian, or Turk. Again and again their churches were destroyed, their services prohibited, their books burnt, their elders imprisoned and murdered. As the centuries wore on the Christian Egyptians grew fewer and fewer, till at their lowest ebb it is reckoned that there were not more than seven hundred thousand pure bred and Christian Egyptians left in the land. The Ottoman conquest in the beginning of the sixteenth century ruined them still further, for the artistic industries which they had always been allowed to practise for the benefit of their foreign masters were now almost entirely destroyed.

The Turkish Sultan who reduced Egypt once more to the position of an outlying province belonging to an empire across the sea was Selim I, who entered Cairo in triumph during the month of April in 1517. He forced the reigning Kaliph, who lived in Cairo and still exercised a real though undefined jurisdiction over the Moslem world, to abdicate in his favour, and caused it to be publicly proclaimed that henceforth the Ottoman Sultan was also the legitimate Kaliph, sole lord, both spiritual and temporal, of the Moslem world.

From among the Mameluk Emirs, whose lives had been spared on their submission to the Turkish conquerors, Selim chose twelve who were set over the twelve military districts into which Egypt was divided with the title of Bey. His successor, Suliman II, increased the number of Beys to twenty-four, and issued an edict confiscating the whole of the land of Egypt to himself as the sole landowner. He then farmed out the districts to any man who would bid highest for the privilege of collecting the taxes, reserving to himself the right to revoke the concession whenever he got less money out of them than he expected. Moslems and Christians in Egypt were thus involved in a common tyranny, and the country sank year by year into a deeper degradation. A pasha was appointed to represent the Turkish Sultan in Egypt, but he also was liable to be recalled at any moment, and the one idea of almost every Government official was to make as much money as possible during his brief and uncertain tenure of office. From the conquest of Egypt by Selim to the invasion by Napoleon in 1798, a period of 281 years, the Governor of Egypt was changed by order from Stamboul 119 times, not counting temporary revolts. In one of these riots the archives of Egypt were burnt.

Generally the Moslems and Christians suffered alike under the Turk in Egypt, but occasionally there was a special persecution of the Copts as Christians, especially in the eighteenth century, when they suffered very much. At the close of this century Egypt was perhaps in a worse position than she had been at any time since the Roman conquest. Her industries were paralysed, her commerce ruined, her people, especially that fragment of the nation which had still kept their Christian faith, were reduced to a condition of absolute slavery and misery.

In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt, posing as a Moslem deliverer. But the virtues of the French were as injurious to them as their vices, and in a few months they had contrived to set every class, nationality, and creed against them. The English, who were then at war with the French, followed them into Egypt in February 1801, and drove them out the same year. But the English were concerned with the French, not the Egyptians, and made no attempt to keep the country for themselves. The Turks re-occupied the country with the usual holocaust of blood which marks their accession or return to power in any country. Still, things were never quite so bad for the Egyptians again. In the anarchy which followed, Mohammed Ali, a European of Christian ancestry, forced his way to supreme power, and their condition slowly improved. An able if unscrupulous ruler, he employed the best men he could find for his purpose, and the most trustworthy, whether Christian or Mohammedan. This led to the employment of an increasing number of Christians in Government service, since they were found to be better educated, more intelligent and less untrustworthy than the average Moslem of the same social standing. It is true that Mohammed Ali generally chose Copts who had turned Catholic, and therefore were not popular with their own countrymen ; and it is also true that, as in the case of Moallem Ghali, he was apt to murder them when he had got all that he could expect from them in the way of service. Still, he showed toleration to the Christians in general, and since his time no open persecution of the Christians, as such, has been permitted, though under Said Pasha all Copts were treated with the greatest harshness and injustice.

When Egypt was occupied by the British in 1882, the Copts rejoiced in the coming of a Christian nation, and looked forward to a new era of freedom and prosperity. It did not occur to them that a great and civilised nation like the English would be so ignorant as not to know that the true Egyptians, then reduced to little more than seven hundred thousand in a population of seven millions, were Christians and not Moslems. They soon found that their existence was simply ignored by the new rulers. When by degrees it dawned on the British engaged in administering the country that all the best servants the Government had were Copts, and that Copt appeared to be synonymous with Christian, they seem to have thought that injustice was being done to the Moslem majority. An attempt was made to encourage the Moslems to take what was supposed to be ‘ their proper place in their own country,’ and the unfortunate Copts found themselves treated with studied disfavour and often with actual injustice by those to whom they had looked for help and sympathy. It is true that, since 1884, the Copts have been freed from all legal disabilities, but persistent favouritism has always been shown to the Moslems, and this has had a bad effect both on them and on the Copts. The Moslems attribute our attitude to fear of them, and of late years a movement has been got up, principally by descendants of those very Turks who were the worst governors and oppressors that Egypt ever knew, in favour of ‘Nationalism’ though the bulk of the nation, Moslem and Christian alike, would repudiate it if they dared, and would suffer greatly if this new intrigue of the Turks succeeded. The school-boys of the Government schools are, perhaps, the only class in Egypt who really believe in or welcome their would-be defenders. Most of the Copts are too far-seeing to be taken in by these Moslem ‘patriots’ and remain friendly to England as the only nation which has succeeded in bringing back prosperity to their unhappy race, although she treats them with no sympathy, little intelligence, and not always even with justice. Instances could be given, especially of late years, where appointments won by Copts in open examination have been cancelled for the sole reason that they had been won by a Christian and not by a Mohammedan.

The Copts, who now number nearly a million, are still trying by all peaceful means to regain their natural rights in their own country, but, so far, have met with small success. No doubt it was better for a community so long enslaved that its emancipation should come gradually, and the great numerical preponderance of the Moslems makes it often very difficult to do justice to the minority. But it ought not to be an impossible task for the Christian nation who is still responsible for the government of Egypt.


[1] Mrs E L Butcher, The Story of the Church of Egypt, Being an Outline of the History of the Egyptians Under Their Successive Masters from the Roman Conquest Until Now, 2 volumes (London, Smith, Edder, & Co, 1897).

[2] She called her husband, The Dean.

[3] E L Butcher, Egypt As We Knew It (London, 1911), p. 149.

[4] Kyriakos Mikhail, Copts Under British Control (Lobdon, 1911), pp. 1-13.

[5] Ibid, p. 2.

[6] We can disagree with Mrs Butcher on this allegation.

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