May 13, 2007

Copts and Egypt

Following the recent attacks- I've published an article over at Bits about why the Copts are such a big issue between sectarian and Islamist politicians in Egypt- the argument is pretty simple but I hope interesting.


james higham said...

...There is a correlation here which is worth investigating...

Now Tiberius, wasn't I called all sorts of names recently for daring to suggest this about a "certain religion"? And didn't you disagree with me violently? Only I didn't use the word correlation.

Perhaps the British version is not violent.

Gracchi said...

James I said Islamism not Islam there is a difference- one is a political movement, the other a religion. To attribute political beliefs to a political movement is not the same as attributing them to a religion and Islamism is one current within Islam it isn't Islam- there are other currents- Sufi Islam for example is completely opposed to Islamism and many of the Egyptian liberals and nationalists I cite are Muslims too.

Vino S said...

I see an analogy between the situation in Egypt and that in Bangladesh.

In Egypt, essentially, there are 2 points of view. One is, as you say, that Egypt is the state of all those who live there - regardless of religion. As such, the Copts are as much a part of the nation as the Muslim majority. The other view is that Egypt is a Muslim country and Muslim principles (however defined by the various islamist factions) should hold sway. This is, though, complicated by the fact that many hardline islamists do not believe in nation-states and want a global, single, Muslim state. They thus think that in the long-run Egypt should disappear and merge with other Muslim-majority countries to re-form the caliphate.

In Bangladesh, there is a similar tension at work which - to some degree but only partially, mirrors the divide between the Awami League and the Bangladeshi National Party. The Awami League traditionally saw Bangladesh as the national homeland of the Bengalis - whether they be Hindu, Muslim or Christian. The Bangladeshi national party has traditionally been closer to hardline islamic groups and has played on the religious feelings of the Muslim majority of the population of East Bengal (as well as trying to get support from Muslim non-Bengalis who live in the country). Thus, there are two conceptions of Bangladesh - that it is the nation-state of the Bengali people or that it is a state for Muslims who (generally in that area) happen to be Bengali.

This conflict between secular, ethnic and religious ways of defining nations and nationality have existed throughout the world and are not necessarily only a problem in Muslim-majority countries. For example, in Thailand and Sri Lanka, there is political dispute about how vital Buddhism is to national identity.

In the same way, in Poland (especially in the inter-war period) there was political debate about whether to be a Pole meant one had to be Catholic. In inter-war Poland, there were large Jewish minorities and also Ukranian and Belarusian minorities (who tended to follow the Eastern Orthodox Church). There were 2 rival conceptions of Polish nationalism at the time - one that tied it to the (alleged) historically Catholic nature of ethnic Poles and one that tied it in with _all_ the peoples living in the then-current boundaries of the state. This latter conception was secular and attempted, in some cases, to cross ethnic boundaries.