The book “Coptic Papers and Periodicals … 150 Years in Service of the Church and the Nation”, published in Cairo in December 2022, was compiled, written, and edited by Malak Bushra Hanna, Sinout Delwar Shenouda, Ishaq al-Bagoushi, Nader Shukry, and Ramy Atta; and comes with an introduction by Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya.
The book includes a wealth of information on the emergence and growth of Coptic press and media in the last 150 years and till the present day. More interestingly, it cites the historical groundwork that gave rise to that press, then goes on to give a near comprehensive review of Coptic papers and periodicals, highlighting the five publications honoured by Pope Tawadros at the Coptic Church’s celebration on 3 December 2022. It also sheds light on the prominent Coptic figures who founded or ran Coptic publications.
The book starts by going back in time to the end of the 18th century, following the French military campaign by Napoleon against Egypt in 1797 to 1802. Even though the campaign was hated and resisted by Egyptians, it had the effect of affording them a glimpse at world civilisation and enlightened thought which they had never experienced in their centuries under Ottoman rule.
Once the French left, Egyptians demanded of the Ottoman Caliph to have their own “elected” ruler: the Albanian military commander who later became known as Muhammad Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt from 1805 till 1848, and the founder of modern Egypt.
Among Muhammad Ali’s diverse, all-encompassing reforms was a revolution in public education which was later picked by individuals, civil or religious organisations, missionaries, and the Coptic Church, by founding schools open to all. The result was a generation of educated, well-read Egyptians; among Copts especially the prevalent principle was “leave your children with a legacy of education not money”.
Muhammad Ali treated Copts and Muslims as Egyptians on equal footing; he employed whoever of them could best perform the work required, the result being that Copts began to shine as competent, faithful public servants. But it was Khedive Said, Egypt’s ruler in 1854 – 1863 who really established Copts as Egyptian citizens by cancelling their status as dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects under Muslim rule) through abolishing the jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims) they had been steadily paying for long centuries, and recruiting them in the army equally with Muslims. His successor Khedive Ismail, Egypt’s ruler from 1863 to 1979, further allowed Copts to run for the Representative Council, and appointed them judges in his newly established system of civil courts (in place of Islamic courts).
The second half of the 19th century thus saw a generation of Egyptian-citizen well-educated Copts poised to actively participate in serving their country and Church; and serve they did.
Muhammad Ali had founded in 1828, the first Egyptian paper al-Waqei al-Misriya (Egyptian Chronicles) which is to this day the official paper of the Egyptian government. A variety of papers and periodicals later flooded the Egyptian scene, published by private citizens or organisations.
Copts were no exception to the rule; the first Coptic paper al-Watan saw light in November 1877, founded by Mikhail Abdel-Sayed. It centred on political, literary, and trade issues, but had special focus on Coptic affairs. Many other Coptic-founded papers followed, especially outstanding was Misr (Egypt) which started off in 1895 at the hands of its founder Tadros Shenouda al-Manqabadi (1857 – 1932) as a weekly then became a daily paper till it closed in 1966—extending over 71 years. A close second is Watani, the weekly Sunday paper first issued in December 1958 and still running —this December it enters its 65th year.
The book gives brief reviews of some three papers published in Egypt by Coptic individuals; 61 Christian periodicals published mostly by Church servants or clergy in Egypt to serve spiritual, moral, research, and ecclesial objectives; and three in the Diaspora. The book stresses that these are definitely not the full number of publications issued during the last 150 years. It goes on to cite Coptic websites, TV channels, and the websites and social media pages that represent printed publications—including wataninet and al-Kiraza.
The final chapter in the book pays tribute to 41 Coptic figures who, through dedication and determination, spearheaded publications throughout 150 years since 1872.
7 December 2022