In this recorded public history lecture, Michael Akladios speaks of Copts in Egypt and contrasts 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.
I try to explain that Copts are not Western Christians lost in the Middle East, or living relics of “one of the oldest Church in the World.” At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the violence and discrimination Copts suffer. It is an exercise at equilibrium which is sometimes difficult.
By bringing the ‘extreme’ case of Waguih Ghali to the forefront, I would like to think out loud about the other ‘Waguihs’ who are not able to defining some of their relationships and interactions with the Coptic tradition of khidma. I wish to point to the stories of Coptic Christians who accept the fact that their lives- or at least some aspects of their everyday relationships- do not reflect how they are identified. Yet their stories wrongly contribute to the insistence on a hegemonic identification process.
While it is often the case that researchers, journalists, and visitors would be interested in going to the visible places of worship during St. Mary’s time (i.e. the official parishes), I was eventually driven to other invisible spaces that, paradoxically, are very important for the Copts. Building on Miray Philip’s photo essay about urban places of worship, my story aims to shed light on less visible places where Copts navigate their aspirations, pressures, and desires.
Religious buildings in Egypt tell a complex and rich history of religious life. A once thriving cosmopolitan country, Egypt was home to its local Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. It also became a site of refuge for many (im)migrant communities, such as Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and others. The visibility of religious buildings belonging to various faith communities evoke a sense of nostalgia of a perceived pluralistic past.
My story is not unique. Identities are complex, constantly changing, morphing to our circumstances. They can anchor us to a glorified past or romanticized national experiences we have no tangible connections to. They are built up, torn down and put together in varied ways, by diverse people. They are formed, reformed and deconstructed. Perhaps the only constant is that identities are never constant.
Fieldwork is expensive. It's imperative to do extensive research long before booking a flight, hotel, and embarking on that delightful journey to Egypt. If this will be your first trip, I have compiled a few tips and tricks to get you started. If you're a veteran at this, perhaps some of these could save you time and money. Happy Holidays!