The Copts demanded equal treatment for their students, that is, government-paid instruction in the Christian religion. The government argued, sometimes explicitly, that a state whose official religion was Islam could not finance the propagation ofChristianity. In all events, the government had to expect heavy Muslim opposition to any step in this direction. Often the Copts were put on the defensive over an even more sensitive issue: whether Coptic students should be excused from instruction in Islam and whether they should be obliged to take exams in Islamic studies.

After the First World War, the national Wafd movement brought about a sacrosanct union in which community tensions tended to become obliterated; but soon afterwards, the decline ofthe Wafd and the rise ofthe Muslim Brothers only accentuated the Coptic dilemma. Even before 1940, this cropped up in criticism of the official population statistics: Christians alleged that there was a deliberate underrepresentation of the Coptic population to cover up confessional discrimination against them in the distribution of government and civil service posts and political representation. Copts and Muslims accused one another of holding some economic and administrative citadels to which the other had virtually no access. The Muslims thought the Coptic community profited economically from the western and 'Christian' occupation of the country, while the Copts maintained that the British 'Residency' practised a pro-Muslim policy.31

The Majilis al-Milli was organised with the permission of the government, which registered its constitution. This constitution, however, underwent many changes. The original constitution, which was accepted on 14 May 1883, was changed on 31 December 1908, 12 February 1912 and 22 July 1927. The constitution set out the organisation and functions of the Majilis al-Milli and also sought to settle the relationship between it and the Coptic patriarchate. It claimed (1) that the Majilis should deal with matters concerning 'personal status', such as marriage, divorce and adoption; (2) that it should supervise the waqfs, religious endowments, and have a record of their budget; (3) that it should appoint a director of the patriarchate and a director of waqfs; (4) that it should supervise all Coptic schools and the theological seminary; (5) that it should look after all benevolent associations and look after the affairs of the poor and underprivileged; (6) that it should keep a record of the number of churches, convents and monasteries; (7) that it should work for the 'spiritual' improvement of the clergy and train and prepare them for their task; and

31 L. Bowie, 'The Copts, the Wafd and religious issues in Egyptian politics', The Muslim World 67 (1971), 106-26.

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