Communal competitiveness in transition : Coptic politics 1943-1955
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The focus of this thesis will be the communal politics of Egypt’s Coptic Christians during the years 1943-1955. In the context of a series of national and communal challenges in the 1930s and 1940s, I argue that Copts during this period began to shift their attention away from the national to the communal. This shift was accompanied by a transfer of competitive political energy to communal affairs, resulting in a period characterized by heightened tensions and contestation within the community, largely based around community-specific bodies of authority. These bodies became the center of several communal struggles for power, in particular those regarding the election and character of the patriarch, the administration of Coptic awqaf, and the composition and duties of al-Majlis al-Milli. These three issues form the primary arenas for communal contestation at the core of this study. These struggles will be understood in the context of a three-phase narrative of Coptic history, with the period of study serving as a transitional stage between the second and third stages, the liberal era and the Republic. Based on the intensity of these debates during this era and their unique manifestations, I argue that the period of study was a stage defined by communal competitiveness, in which the importance of communal bodies and the level of competition between these bodies were both high. These dynamics held important implications for the larger shift from liberal era Coptic politics to those during the Republic. In general, this thesis will serve as a study in the reaction of a minority group to national and communal crises, and the impact of this reaction on communal structures. In the case of Copts in the 1940s, this reaction entailed the community looking inward, and a shift in political energy to communal affairs. With this transition, a unique set of tensions emerged regarding legitimacy and authority in the community, as secular bodies and figures jockeyed for power in arenas that had previously been the domain of religious authorities.