Beyond Persecution: The Copts in Egypt’s Twentieth Century

On 21 March, I was invited by the Orthodox Christian Students’ Association (OCSA) at York University in Toronto to speak on the history of Coptic populations and the challenges many continue to face in Egypt. This was part of a joint event hosted by Armenian, Chaldean, and Coptic students to commemorate and shed light on their distinct histories and common Christian heritage. Speakers were invited to showcase both Christian belonging in the Middle East and the impact of persistent persecution on new diasporic communities that seek to preserve cultural uniqueness in new lands. It is my sincere hope that such recent efforts at collaboration and exchange continue to grow and develop. Below, you will find a recording of the talk with accompanying slides.

Speakers and organizers for “Power for the Persecuted” event at York University, March 2019.

I titled the talk “beyond persecution” because I chose to highlight the effects of interlocking systems of power on Copts in Egypt’s modern history. When speaking of Egypt, I contrast the democratic promise of the early twentieth century with the rise of discrimination and harassment, leading eventually to persistent persecution of numerical, linguistic, racial, and/or religious minorities by a dominant majority that is institutionalized by the state. Copts remain an integral part of Egyptian history and society. Though once far more active in political discourse and national life, their position has diminished in the second half of the twentieth century. Yet much like African Americans and Indigenous peoples in Canada, theirs is a familiar story of systemic institutionalized discrimination to be discussed, debated, and denounced in favour of equal recognition, respect, and full participation in public life.


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I hope you enjoyed the talk. Please leave any comments or questions below.

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Michael Akladios is a doctoral candidate in history at York University. His dissertation examines the transnational and ecumenical history of Coptic immigrants, first in Egypt and then later in the first and largest immigrant communities in Toronto, Montreal, and New York. In addition to his doctoral research, Michael is the founder and project manager of the Coptic Canadian History Project (CCHP), a not-for-profit public history and community outreach organization affiliated with the Department of History and the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University Libraries.

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