COPTIC REVOLTS

Sources refer to a number of revolts of the Copts against Arab authorities between 693 or 694 and 832. Arab historians have seen these revolts as a reaction to the heavy taxes placed on the Copts and the deterioration of their social status under rule. The most significant revolts are those of the Bashmurites, who settled in the marshy land of the and lived by selling papyrus, fowling, and fishing. Thus they were not dependent on the central irrigation system controlled by the government.

Moreover, their swampy region with its thickets and reeds was not easily accessible for organized armies. When in 749 the authorities captured and abused the Coptic Patriarch Kha’il in Rashid (Rosetta), the burned that city and killed many of its inhabitants. Their most serious revolt, which flared up in the in 832, was the last one of the Copts.

It required the personal intervention of the Caliph al-Ma’mun, who had to come from Baghdad to and brought with him of Tell Mahre, Patriarch of Antioch, to unite with the Coptic Patriarch Yusab in convincing the to surrender. They were offered a general pardon with the condition that they be resettled. When the refused, their rebellion was radically crushed, and churches and homes were burned. The Bashmuric Copts who outlived the massacre were sold as slaves in Damascus.

Arab and modern historians as well agreed that the ferocious repression of this last Bashmurite revolt was a turning point for conversion to Islam in Egypt. It would be misleading to place too much emphasis on the revolts of the Bashmuric Copts, who did not achieve any improvement of the conditions that caused their revolts. However, they tried without any organized army to protect themselves from foreign oppression.

GAWDAT GABRA