Egypt remained a province of the Ottoman Empire into the twentieth century, but the struggle between colonial powers in the nineteenth century influenced missionary activity and promoted the growth of national consciousness among Coptic Christians. Napoleon invaded Egypt and defeated the local rulers in 1798, yet the lasting effect of his expedition was scientific, not political, as modern Egyptology began with the experts accompanying Napoleon. The British soon defeated the French and helped the local rulers regain control and restore Egypt as an Ottoman province. This was also the beginning of several years of instability that ended when Muhammad Ali, an Albanian officer of the Ottomans, took control in Egypt. His rule (1805-49) began the modernization of Egypt and to some extent integrated Coptic Christians into national life. His many ambitious projects (land reform, industrialization, etc.) included reforms in education aided by foreign missionaries. The successor of Muhammad Ali gradually improved the legal status of the Copts: the jizya tax on Copts was abolished (1855) and they were accepted for military service, Copts were represented in the Consultative Council (1866), and legal equality with Muslims was affirmed (1913, then in the constitution of 1922).
The modernization begun by Muhammad Ali was matched by the work of Patriarch Cyril IV (1854-61), who made many efforts towards reform. He encouraged education (especially for clergy), church publications and construction. Cyril helped to promote union with the Eastern Orthodox, but these negotiations were cut short by his death, under rather mysterious circumstances, at age 45. Catholic and Protestant missionary activity also steadily increased opportunities for education among Copts, so it is not surprising that tensions developed between educated laity and tradition-minded clergy. In 1874, the Majlis Milli (community council) was formed at the instigation of powerful Coptic laymen and initially accepted by Cyril V (1874-192 7) to administer church property and generally support reform. Cyril V later withdrew his approval and a power struggle between the patriarch/clergy and lay leaders continued for decades under several patriarchs. A more harmonious phase in the interaction of clergy and laity began in 1910 with the creation of Sunday schools. Habib Guirguis (1876-1951), an archdeacon, perhaps inspired by Protestant models, steadily promoted them until they became part of church life in every city and village. The Sunday schools included age-group classes, youth activities, teacher conferences, and prayer groups. Many important leaders of the present Coptic Church have emerged from the Sunday school movement, and it is a vital part of the diaspora community.
But the vitality shown in these institutions (council, Sunday schools) has been repeatedly threatened by trends in Egyptian society as a whole, especially by Muslim fundamentalism. The British protectorate (1882-1952), in which British troops were stationed in Egypt and dominated the Egyptian monarchy, stimulated nationalist resistance by Egyptians. At first, Egyptian nationalism united Muslims and Christians, as in the Wafd Party, which had some Coptic leaders and achieved partial independence from the British (agreements in 1922, then 1936-7). Copts were prominent in the government of King Fuad I (1922-36) and in society at large. Meanwhile, from the 1930s, the Muslim Brothers and other Islamist organizations emerged that sought to identify Egyptian nationalism with Islam and therefore return Copts to the inferior status required by Islamic law.
Matters reached a crisis in 1952, when a military coup led by Gamel Nasser overthrew the monarchy and eliminated British influence after the Suez conflict of 1956. The Nasser years (1953-70) included land reform and nationalization of some industries. These measures reduced the economic power of the Coptic upper class and increased emigration to Europe and America. The early years of Anwar Sadat, Nasser's successor, were somewhat better for Copts, who regained some public influence. Boutros Boutros Ghali (later UN secretary general) was an important adviser to Sadat when the Camp David agreement was signed (19 78), formalizing peace between Egypt and Israel. Yet the continued economic weakness of Egypt and the condemnation of Egypt by other Arab countries combined to strengthen Muslim fundamentalism. Riots in Cairo in 1981 killed Copts and burned churches; a further outbreak of anti-Christian violence took place in 1990 in Minya and Fayyum. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by fundamentalists; also killed in the attack was Bishop Samuel, the Coptic representative to the ecumenical movement. Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, has maintained peace with harsh measures against anti-government forces.
It seems that both communities in Egypt - Muslim and Christian - have turned to religion since the 1950s to gain strength and purpose during the constant economic crisis brought on by a rapidly increasing population. A shared phenomenon - the apparition of the Virgin in 1968 in Zeitun - is one example of this increased religious fervour. On the Coptic side, while emigration to diaspora centres has increased, within Egypt the monastic movement draws greater numbers of the better educated. These difficult times have produced Coptic leaders to match national leaders such as Nasser and Sadat. Patriarch Cyril VI (1959-71) led negotiations leading to greater independence for the Church of Ethiopia (1959). He promoted monastic discipline, having come to the patriarchate from a long monastic life. Cyril reduced the powers of the
Majlis Milli, but worked fairly well with Nasser, who laid the foundation stone of the new St Mark's Cathedral in 1965. Patriarch Shenouda III (19 71-) has been equally forceful, but endured more difficult times. Attacks on Christians by Islamic extremists caused Shenouda to protest to Sadat and cancel Easter celebrations in 1980. Sadat responded to more violence in 1981 by confining Shenouda to his monastery in Wadi Natrun and suppressing some Muslim groups. Shenouda returned from this internal exile in 1985, after Sadat's assassination, as Mubarak maintained an uneasy status quo. Shenouda has continued the monastic revival in Egypt, but also moved to become the visible leader of a worldwide Coptic Church, touring overseas in 1989.
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