The Copts maintained an ambivalent position towards the British. On the one hand, they looked upon them as their protectors, but on the other, they felt that the British were not doing enough for them. As the number of Syrian, Armenian, British and even Muslim employees in the upper ranks of the administration rose at the cost of positions held by the Copts, the Copts' resentment of the Muslims, the other minorities and the British increased. The enthusiasm particularly ofBritish churchmen and missionaries for Coptic Church reform led the Coptic clergy to suspect that all British interference was ultimately designed to win converts to Anglicanism.29 This disappointment and the economic difficulties during the war led many Copts, but by no means the community as a whole, to join the nationalist movement after the war. The Wafd was particularly attractive, for it based its programme on secular national unity, on equality for all Egyptians, and on participation of all in the political process.
Another sensitive issue was the question of religious education in government schools. This especially concerned the Copts, who attended government schools in large numbers. In 1937 some 80 per cent of all Coptic students attended government schools. The issue was not whether religion should be taught in government schools; Muslims supported the idea and Copts certainly did not oppose it, with such unrepresentative exceptions as Salama Musa, who demanded full separation of state and 'church', that is, rejection of any religious instruction in government schools.30
The issue of religion as it presented itself to the Copts was, rather, whether in addition to the teaching of Islam the state should provide Christian students with instruction in Christianity. Here the contradiction in the two principles anchored in the Egyptian constitution of 1923 came to the fore: equal rights and freedom of faith for all citizens versus Islam as the religion of the state.
andJews in the Ottoman empire: the functioning of a plural society, ed. B. Braude and B. Lewis (New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1982), 11,185-205.
29 The British either considered playing or played a greater role in Coptic Church affairs in the Sudan and Ethiopia. In the late 1920s, they refused to let the metropolitan of Khartoum return to the Sudan because his behaviour had been scandalous, and they wanted his deputy (wakêl), the reformist Hanna Salama, left in charge. In 1926-27 they were as opposed as the Egyptians to the investiture of an Ethiopian as metropolitan to Ethiopia. The Foreign Office in London even wondered if the appointment of an 'anglophile' metropolitan could not somehow be discreetly engineered: Carter, The Copts in Egyptian politics, 54-5. The head of the Ethiopian church had been a Copt for many centuries until 1952: Ayele Takhahaymanot, 'The Egyptian Metropolitan of the Ethiopian Church: a study on a chapter of history of the Ethiopian Church', OCP 56 (1988), 175-222.
30 For the Salama Mûsa 'lay' Coptic vision see Vernon Egger, A Fabian in Egypt: Salmah Musa and the rise of professional classes in Egypt, 1909-193 9 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986).
Was this article helpful?