Copts began publishing religious, intellectual, and political periodicals in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some journals and newspapers were written to appeal to Muslims as well as Christians, while others focused more narrowly on communal and church affairs. The heyday of such publications was the seventy-five years between the founding of the newspaper al-Watan in 1877 and the close of the constitutional monarchy in 1952.
The number of Coptic periodicals published during this period gives evidence not only of a lively and vigorous communal life but also of a substantial literate public for so small a community. The freedom that Coptic journalists felt in voicing views that many Muslims found highly controversial is one example of the considerable political tolerance of this era.
Coptic periodicals frequently defended their perception of Coptic interests in society at large. Their attempts to encourage communal cohesiveness, particularly in the face of perceived Muslim or government depredations, were in contrast to the extreme division of opinion on internal church matters, a favorite subject of all periodicals that counted their readership primarily among Copts. All were concerned with national issues. Two, al-Watan and Misr, were daily newspapers, while a third, al-Manarah al-Misriyyah, was a journal that sometimes appeared monthly and sometimes weekly.
Al-Watan was founded by Mikha’il ‘Abd al-Sayyid in 1877 as a forum for national issues. According to the Egyptian historian ‘Abdal-Rahman Al-Rafi‘i (1889-1966), the paper adopted a patriotic policy with a nonpartisan tone. In 1900, after a period of suspension, the paper was published under the editorship of Jindi Ibrahim. Al- Watan was again sold in 1924, and its new proprietor made the newspaper into an advocate of church reform.
The newspaper was a strong defender of Coptic interests in the years before World War I, when ethnic tensions ran high. It was warned on more than one occasion by the government for inciting religious fanaticism. Al-Watan supported the British Occupation and condemned the 1919 revolution and Sa‘d Zaghlul. In time, perhaps realizing how little support there was for the occupation, it came to support the cause of independence. It became a newspaper more concerned with national than communal affairs but retained a conservative color. It opposed the Zaghlulists and promoted cooperation with the British as the quickest route to independence.
It also opposed the boycott of the Milner mission. The newspaper had a tendency to support whatever ministry was in power and was fervently loyal to the throne, two sensible positions for a minority paper. With al-Watan’s sale, the newspaper began supporting the Wafd party, but its conversion in 1924 came too late. The Wafd party had no real need to support two Coptic newspapers, and Misr had a prior and stronger claim to a nationalist readership. Al-Watan’s error at this point may have been to look too much like its rival, Misr, with similar views on church and national matters. It began to appear sporadically in 1927 and disappeared in 1930.
Misr was the preeminent Coptic organ in the period of the constitutional monarchy. Throughout its life, it claimed to speak for the Copts, although it also served at times as a party newspaper and had Muslim and Coptic journalists and readers. The newspaper was founded in 1895 by Tadrus Shinudah al-Manqabadi, an Orthodox Copt. The newspaper presented reformist views and opposed the conservative and proclerical stance of al-Watan.
Misr paid close attention to communal matters and was steadfast in its anticlerical views. It supported any proposal that would increase lay participation in church affairs. Misr described its role as that of the watchdog of the community. The newspaper was very influential in promoting church reform, and its support for the COMMUNITY COUNCIL probably afforded that body some protection from government interference.
Misr began publication as a staunch defender of the British Occupation. It opposed the pan-Islamic nationalism of MUSTAFA KAMIL and defended the Coptic community against the attacks of al-Liwa’ and al-Mu’ayyad in 1908-1909. Misr also supported the COPTIC CONGRESS OF ASYUT in 1911. It was in this troubled period a stronger advocate of Coptic rights than at any other time until the late 1940s.
As al-Manqabadi noted, there was no surer way to financial ruin in Egypt than to start a newspaper. In 1917, Misr disappeared for a short period owing to the owner’s financial troubles. When it reappeared in 1918, it did so as a convert to the nationalist cause. By the time of the 1919 revolution, Misr was supporting the Wafd party and was vehemently anti-British. It even served for a short period as the chief Zaghlulist organ. For the most part, the newspaper continued to back the Wafd, although its enthusiasm for the party sometimes wavered. Misr was also a very strong supporter of the Wafd during the controversial 1938 election, but thereafter it was very subdued in its criticism of the victorious Mahmud government.
After the Coptic politician MAKRAM EBEID left the Wafd in the 1940s, Misr’s support for the party ended. Following World War II, Misr assumed a more communal character and largely withdrew from the national political arena. It was clear in expressing its disappointment in the political system. Under SALAMAH MUSA, the newspaper intensified its defense of Coptic interests. Accusing the newspaper of religious fanaticism, the Sidqi government ceased publishing announcements in its pages.
Al-Manarah al-Misriyyah was founded in 1928 by the radical priest and famous orator, the qummus Murqus Malati SARJIYUS. Sarjiyus was a popular figure among Muslims and Copts and was an influential advocate of church reform. For most of his working life, he was the bane of the patriarchate. He expressed his views with so little tact in his journal that he was excommunicated twice.
When his friend Anba MACARIUS III was elected patriarch on a reform platform in 1944, Sarjiyus found himself, for the first time, backing the patriarchate. He became the patriarch’s wakil (vicar guard) and surprisingly, in a complete reversal, continued to support him, even when the latter failed to enact his promised reforms. Sarjiyus also served as wakil for Macarius’ successor, YUSAB II. The latter also reneged on promises of reform and plunged the community into considerable chaos. By 1952, Sarjiyus was attacking the patriarch, and was excommunicated as a result of these attacks, but was later reinstated.
Al-Manarah was primarily interested in internal matters, but it did deal with the wider area of Coptic-Muslim relations. It was not affiliated with any party, but did oppose the Wafd owing to its proprietor’s break with that party in the 1920s. Sarjiyus was inclined to address all subjects only in terms of how they would affect the Coptic community. Al-Manarah was diligent in reporting incidents of violence against Copts and complained about government interference in community affairs. The journal was more temperate when Sarjiyus served as wakil.
The weekly newspaper Watani is the most important Coptic organ to appear in the post-1952 period. In early 1958, a group of Coptic notables decided that the community needed a vehicle to express its views and interests. After acquiring a government permit, the newspaper began to appear under the editorship of ‘Aziz Mirza, a former chief editor of al-Ahram. The newspaper encountered serious financial difficulties, owing principally to the lack of advertising brought about by the 1961 nationalizations, but it has continued to publish. Watani reports on Orthodox church concerns and also discusses the affairs of other Egyptian Christian sects. The newspaper also publishes articles on matters of general national concern.
In 1981, Watani was suspended for publishing articles that the government declared were inflammatory. These articles dealt with the Christian-Muslim violence that broke out in the district of al- Zawiyah al-Hamra’. Watani protested the suspension and took its case to court. In June 1983, the court upheld Watani’s position. Nonetheless, the suspension continued until December 1984. The newspaper continues to write on matters of specific concern to the Coptic community and consciously tries to promote good relations between Muslims and Copts.
- Carter, B. L. The Copts in Egyptian Politics. London, 1986.
B. L. CARTER
- The following is an attempt at the compilation of as comprehensive a list of the Arabic Coptic organs, both periodicals and daily newspapers.
- Al-‘A’ilah al-Qibtiyyah, published monthly by Jam‘iyat al-Ittihad al-Qibtiyyah al-Khayriyyah at Alexandria in 1909 and 1910.
- ‘Ayn-Shams, published by Claudius Labib in 1900 and ceased publication three years later; mainly for Coptic language and history.
- Al-Anwar, founded by Rev. Dawud al-Maqari in 1946, with the collaboration of Antuniyus Mikha’il. Ceased publication 1968.
- Mainly for Coptic language and theological studies.
- Al-Fatah al-Qibti, published monthly by the Central al-Iman Benevolent Society at Cairo from 1905 to 1910.
- Al-Fida, published weekly, started by Mus’ad Sadiq in 1952. It was mainly interested in preserving national unity in an atmosphere of secularization. It was stopped by military decree in January 1953. It resumed publication in 1958.
- Al-Fir‘un, published bimonthly at Cairo by Tawfiq Habib from 1909 to 1920.
- Al-Haqq, published monthly by Yusuf Manqariyus, director of the CLERICAL COLLEGE, in 1907 for a period of about five years. It reappeared under the hegumenos Yusuf al-Dayri in 1947 and stopped again in 1950. It was mainly devoted to news of the diocese of Qalyubiyyah.
- Al-Iman, published monthly, founded by the Coptic Benevolent Society, with the collaboration of the hegumenos Jirjis Butrus and preacher Ghattas Bisharah, mainly for religious subjects. It ceased publication in 1965.
- Al-Kalimah, published by Labib Kusah in 1930; it ceased publication in 1933. Its main focus was religious subjects.
- Al-Karmah, published in 1915 by HABIB JIRJIS, director of the Clerical College, for biblical studies. It ceased publication in 1930.
- Al-Kirazah, a weekly founded by Anba Shenouda (later Pope SHENOUDA III) in January 1965 when he was bishop for education; it ceased publication in December 1966. It was started again by the patriarch in October 1974. It ceased publication again by order of the authorities in September 1981 but resumed in 1988.
- Al-Majallah al-Jadidah, founded by Salamah Musa in 1929 as a scientific and cultural journal. It also published articles on Coptic questions. It ceased publication in 1941.
- Al-Majallah al-Qibtiyyah, monthly published by Jirjis Philuthawus ‘Awad from 1907 to 1930. Mainly devoted to Coptic history and to the call for clerics to concentrate their energy on spiritual matters.
- Al-Manarah al-Murqusiyyah, weekly published at Cairo by Malati Sarjiyus from 1928 to 1935, then under the name of Al-Manarah al-Misriyyah from 1935 to 1953, when it was suspended with some other periodicals by a military order.
- Al-Mustaqbal, started by Mus‘ad Sadiq in August 1954, on the same lines as Al-Fida and Al-Nil. It ceased publication in February 1958, when replaced by al-Fida’ al-Jadid.
- Al-Nahdah al-Dayriyyah al-Usbu‘iyyah, published from March 1892 to February 1914 by the hegumenos Yusuf Habashi.
- Al-Nahdah al-Iklirikiyyah, published by the hegumenos Jirjis al-Naqadi from 1924 to 1940, mainly for news of churches and monasteries.
- Al-Nahdah al-Ruhiyyah, monthly published at Cairo by Hilmi Habib al-Farshuti from 1925 to 1927.
- Al-Nil, published by Mus‘ad Sadiq from July 1953 to June 1954.
- Al-Nisr al-Misri, published weekly at Cairo by Mikha’il Bisharah Dawud from 1920 to 1922.
- Al-Nur, published weekly by Tadrus Shinudah al-Manqabadi in 1899 and 1900.
- Al-Nuzhah, published bimonthly at Asyut by George Khayyatt from 1886 to 1890.
- Al-‘Uzama’, published monthly at Cairo by Mikha’il Bisharah Dawud from 1915 to 1925.
- Shahadat al-Haqq, published bimonthly at Cairo by Christoforos Jabbarah from 1895 to 1899.
- Al-Rabitah al-Masihiyyah, published monthly by Faraj Jirjis for Jam‘iyyat al-Rabitah al-Masihiyyah at Cairo in 1907 and 1908.
- Al-Sha‘b al-Qibti, published weekly at Alexandria by Maximus from 1908 to 1910.
- Al-Sibaq, published weekly by Tawfiq Habib from 1938 to 1940.
- Al-Shu‘lah, published weekly at Cairo by Tawfiq Habib from 1938 to 1940.
- Al-Shuhada, published weekly at Cairo by ‘Aziz Ghali from 1935 to 1941.
- Tariq al-Hayat, monthly Coptic magazine published in Alexandria in 1930 by the hegumenos Youssef Megally. Religious periodical intended to satisfy the needs of the Coptic family covering topics on theology, history, literature, and social affairs. Publication ceased in 1942, as a result of World War II.
- Al-Tawfiq, monthly founded by the al-Tawfiq Benevolent Society. It ceased publication in 1910, then was started again in 1938, with Tawfik Habib as editor and with the collaboration of Mus‘ad Sadiq, but it only lasted one year before finally ceasing publication.
- Al-Wataniyyah, published by Ayyub Sabri in 1911 and ceased publication in 1953.
- Al-Yaqzah, published in 1924 at Cairo by the hegumenos Ibrahim Luqa with Mus‘ad Sadek as editor and Fayiz Riyad as director.
- Asyut Weekly, published by Amin Khayr al-Asyuti from 1930 to 1954.
- Awladi, monthly, published at Mansurah by Madaris al-Tarbiyyah al-Kanasiyyah at the Society of the Friends of the Bible in 1968 and still being published.
- Bashir al-Injil, published monthly, first in the Fayyum by Ghali Ibrahim from 1936 to 1938, then under the name of Kanisat al-Ni‘mah at Cairo from 1960 onward.
- Buq al-Injil, published monthly by the General Association of Churches in 1920, then moved to Cairo and still being published.
- Buq al-Qadasah, monthly, first published at Asyut in 1902, then moved to Cairo. Still being published.
- Majallat Madaris al-Ahad, published by the Sunday School Association since 1947 for religious studies.
- Mar Jirjis, published by the hegumenos Fu’ad Basili since 1949, mainly for editing the texts of predications.
MIRRIT BOUTROS GHALI