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“Now, with the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood, we have one of the most substantial moments of a Coptic resurgence in recent memory,” says Adel Iskandar, author of “Egypt in Flux” and a fellow at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Copts are participating in Egyptian public life with unprecedented fervor.

“Before the revolution, Coptic politics were on life support. Afterward, they came to life.”

Modern Egypt’s relationship with Copts is complicated. Periods of nationalism and revolt have unified the country around a common enemy, but fragmentation and sectarianism have soon followed.

“When the nation has a dream or a target they will never have discrimination,” says Kamal Mogeth, an Egyptian historian and writer. When the target disappears, or is achieved, he says, “this is when it all starts.”

Analysts and historians see the heyday for the Copts as the period surrounding the 1919 revolt against the British, who had occupied Egypt since 1882. A national fervor gripped the population, unifying its many factions. The Muslim architect of the revolt, Saad Zaghloul, worked closely with Christian leaders, including Makram Ebeid, Wassef Boutros Ghali and Wissa Wassef. Copts became champions of Zaghloul’s Wafd party, which opened its doors and developed into a stalwart vehicle for Christian participation in politics for decades to come. Egyptian solidarity was such that, when a Coptic priest, the Rev. Qommus Sergius, preached from the pulpit of the Al Azhar Mosque, Egypt’s most important Muslim institution, he declared: “If the British insist on staying in Egypt under the pretense of protecting Copts, let all Copts die and Muslims live free.”

Yet after the military overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic in 1954, the situation for Copts in Egypt began to deteriorate. While under President Gamal Abdel Nasser attacks against Copts were unheard of, strains of radical Islamist political philosophy grew, despite state suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, Sayyid Qutb, whose writing would later resound with fundamentalists such as Osama Bin Laden, penned some of his most influential works while in prison during this period.

After Nasser’s death in 1970, Anwar Sadat assumed power and took the country in a decidedly Islamic direction, in part to counteract the strong progressive opposition to his rule. He began to release radicals jailed by his predecessor and adopted a more religious mode of discourse himself.

This is when Egyptians began to hear messages of hatred coming from some radicalized mosques, rhetoric that “Christians are infidels not trustworthy [enough] to live or mix with,” explains Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of the Coptic weekly Al Watani.

Attacks on Christians became a way for radical Islamists to test the tolerance of the state, which did nothing to protect the community. Simultaneously, some of those Egyptians who had migrated to the Arab Gulf for work brought back the radical Salafi ideology of the Gulf, their Islamic fundamentalism further alienating the Christians in Egypt.

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