From Polytheists to Partners in the Nation Islamist Attitudes towards Coptic Egyptians in Post-Revolutionary Egypt

By Anna Hager
Submitted to Session P5025 (Sectarianism: States, Parties, and Representations, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
"The Nur Party’s position on Copts is clear and outspoken in considering them partners in the nation, they are an original part of Egypt’s sons, […] my right is his right and my destiny is his destiny" (1). This statement by Spokesman Yusri Hammad seems to stand in contradiction with the Salafi Nur party’s repeated calls to implement Sharia law. Instead of dismissing this comment as a flowery phrase made during the parliamentary elections in 2011/2012, it can be used as a starting point to investigate the question whether the context of political competition and liberalization induced a change in the attitude of Islamist actors towards Coptic Egyptians in the period 2011-2013.
This talk focusses on the attitude of three organizations in Egypt that established political parties in 2011; the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party; al-Dawa al-Salafiyya and the Nur Party; al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party. Although these parties shared similar outlooks and goals, they had a different history of attitude towards Coptic Egyptians and, most importantly, competed against each other after the revolution.
The comment quoted above suggests that between 2011 and 2013, the “Copts” presented a valuable asset to appear as a moderate and serious political actor. At the same time, there was also a profound tension between the new political requirements and the ideological positions of the actors that did not fundamentally change. This was particularly evident in controversies that at first sight did not seem to be relevant such as the question whether to congratulate Copts for their religious feasts. Al-Dawa al-Salafiyya and al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya did not depart from their general attitude considering Christians in Egypt polytheists and dismissed greeting for Christmas as an endorsement of polytheist practices. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nur Party on the other hand displayed changing and competing attitudes which very much reflected underlying tensions between Realpolitik and ideology.
This talk therefore sheds light on Islamist attitudes that are not limited to the question of dhimma but instead are bounded to their local context, and, within these attitudes, limited agency was granted to the Copts. This analysis presents results of a research project conducted during a post-doctoral fellowship.
(1)Al-Shuruq (18 Dec. 2011). "Al-Shuruq interviews Yusri Hammad in the Name of the Nur Party]." Issue 1051, p.15.