I was recently among the members of a jury deliberating a thesis titled: “How Egyptian electronic press deals with the issues of Copts in Egypt, and how this relates to the outlook of youth vis-à-vis national unity.” The thesis was presented by Kyrillos Effat Nessim as a requirement for a PhD degree from Ain Shams University’s Higher Studies Department for Media and Children Culture. It was under supervision of Professor Dr Mahmoud Hassan Ismail and Professor Dr Abdel-Aziz al-Sayed Nessim; the jury included Professor Dr Eetemad Khalaf Meebed and myself. After defending his thesis, Mr Nessim was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree.
The 246-page thesis analysed news published by the daily newpapers, State-owned Al-Ahram, independent al-Youm al-Sabee and liberal al-Wafd during the period from January 2017 until the end of October 2017. It also conducted a field study on 400 university students aged 18 to 21 from the Cairo and Ain Shams universities in Cairo, and the South Valley University in Qena, some 580km south of Cairo.
The researcher tackled the issue of attacks against Copts, the causes of these attacks, the forms they take, and the manner in which they are confronted. He also focused on a number of issues that directly impact Copts. Among them was the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and its aftermath and effect on the attacks against Copts, as well as national unity [between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts], and the relation between the Church and the ruling regime.
The study also broached Coptic issues and grievances in Egypt, specifically the family law [personal status] for Christians, which has yet to see light and which is exclusively based on Biblical principles, in contrast to current family legislation frequently based on Islamic sharia. The issue of building churches was also discussed, still a frequent cause for attacks against Copts; also the critical issue of the number of Copts in Egypt, a number that has been obscured by the State in national census under the pretext that the religious identity is an optional entry in the census papers. This means that only the Church knows the actual number of Copts, a claim no Egyptian believes; Copts believe their number is intentionally downplayed by the government to curtail their rights. Mr Nessim also discussed hate acts and discrimination against Copts such as attacks against their property; abduction or seduction of underage Coptic women; harassment of Copts who leave Christianity then revert to it; and the too-few number of Copts in high ranking official posts. He also discussed the reform of Islamic religious address called for so assiduously by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Egyptian liberals, also equal citizenship rights for Muslims and Copts.
The study indicated that the media items related to Copts and Coptic-Muslim relations most followed by Egypt’s young people were, in order of the most frequently visited: attacks against Copts, family issues, reverters to Christianity, problems with the building of churches, and missing underage Coptic women.
According to the study sample, sectarian strife was egged on by media misrepresentation of facts; fanatic religious address; and romantic alliances between Coptic men and Muslim women, a situation banned by Islam; or between Muslim men and Coptic women, a relation frowned-upon by Copts, and which would normally lead to social conflict.
The study concluded by offering proposals to promote national peace and unity between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts; these were: avoiding sensationalism in reporting news; verifying information before publishing; reinforcing the values of love and coexistence; consolidating the concept of citizenship; and ensuring that the media supports national unity and social peace.
19 September 2019