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Paul Sedra


How Not to Understand Egypt’s Sectarianism

[The aftermath of the explosion in a chapel inside the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Abbasiyya in Cairo, Egypt on 11 December 2016. Photo by Jonathan Rashad]

Just one day before the horrifying attack upon the Botroseyya Church in Abbasiyya that took the lives of two dozen Coptic Christians, mere steps away from Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral and Papal Headquarters, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth issued a provocative tweet. Commenting on an article in Foreign Policy he was circulating, he wrote, “Egypt’s Copts discover after backing Sisi’s coup that his persecution isn’t limited to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Needless ...

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Quick Thoughts: Paul Sedra on the IS Massacre of Egyptian Copts in Libya

[Still shot of the blood of victims mixing with the sea water from the video allegedly depicting the execution of twenty-one Copts at the hands of IS]

Among the most important points to make about these horrific murders relates to context. I would argue this event cannot and should not be placed within the context of domestic Egyptian politics or of Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. Without question, Egypt has a persistent problem with sectarianism and violence against Egypt’s Coptic community. But these latest sectarian murders represent an effort by the Islamic State (IS) movement to advance its transnational agenda ...

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Quick Thoughts: Paul Sedra on the Pope’s Visit to the Middle East

[A welcome banner for Pope Francis with his picture hangs on a building in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 19 May 2014. Image by Nasser Nasser via Associated Press]

  [On Saturday 24 May 2014, Pope Francis embarks on a three-day visit to Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in his first tour of the Middle East since his installation as head of the Catholic Church in 2013. Jadaliyya asked its Contributing Editor Paul Sedra to reflect on the broader issues the pope is expected to address, including the position of Christians in the Middle East.] Vatican watchers and Middle East analysts alike ...

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Egypt’s History Problem

[Tawfiq Saleh (1926-2013). Image originally posted to Ahram Online]

The Egyptian film director Tawfiq Saleh passed away on  18 August. Despite Saleh’s stature in the pantheon of Egyptian cinema, his passing seemed to generate precious little comment in the national media. He was certainly not the most prolific of Egypt’s directors, with only seven feature films to his credit. But together with such greats as Youssef Chahine and Shadi Abdel Salam, he was responsible for that astonishingly productive moment in Egyptian film history which ...

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From Citizen To Problem: The New Coptic Tokenism

[Mosque next to church in Alexandria, Egypt. Image originally posted to Wikimedia Commons]

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry released a statement this past Thursday that was entirely without precedent, and yet it received practically no media attention amidst the political turmoil the country is currently experiencing. According to the statement, “Beyond overlooking the violent and dangerous reality of the Rabea and Nahda sit-ins, a number of foreign governments and international media outlets have also chosen to overlook the recent increase in killings and attacks ...

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Has Citizenship Got a Future in Egypt?

[Demonstration in Cairo near the Maspero denouncing religious sectarianism. 8 May 2011. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy]

The sectarian spectacle that dominated so much Egyptian television coverage – at least that of the private networks – on Sunday, was unprecedented in modern Egyptian history. Even at the lowest points of modern Coptic-Muslim relations, the Coptic Cathedral and Patriarchal headquarters have not experienced the sort of siege that was violently imposed by plainclothes assailants and their abettors in the police, as mourners commemorated the lives of four Christians lost to ...

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The Maspero Massacre: Adding Injustice to Insult and Injury

[State TV building

Amidst the marches, street battles, and political deadlock covered night after night by the Egyptian media, one recent story almost escaped notice. On 4 February Michael Farag and Michael Shaker were each sentenced to three years in prison for having stolen weapons from the armed forces. With noteworthy decisions handed down by Egyptian judges on an almost daily basis, these sentences might seem, at first glance, rather mundane. What makes the media inattention harder to ...

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The Dignity of Hamada Saber

[Hamada Saber beaten up by police forces on 1 February 2013. Photo from]

Depictions of bruised and battered bodies have had an enormous influence upon the waves of protest Egypt has witnessed since the initial stirrings of the January 25 Revolution – from the graphic post-mortem photograph of Khaled Said to images of what is widely known as the “blue bra incident.” However, I suspect few Egyptians would question the particular force of the brutality depicted in a video shot in front of the Ittihadiyya Palace on the evening of 1 February, even as ...

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The Revolution and History

[A huge banner demanding release of political prisoners is carried by Egyptians in a procession through Cairo streets on 14 November 1951. Photo Source: AP]

As a historian, I am often struck by a particular misconception about history, widely held both in Egypt and abroad. This is the sense that, once written, history is fixed or finished – that, once a historian has “covered” Asyut in the 1860s or Alexandria in the 1940s, there is nothing further one can say about those subsections of the wider story of modern Egypt. In fact, history is written and rewritten by each successive generation of historians. What makes this writing ...

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الأقباط وصراع السلطة على الأحوال الشخصية

[الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر والبابا كيرلس السادس. مصدر الصورة الأرشيف الخاص لكاتب المقال]

حين قام الرئيس حسني مبارك بتعديل الدستور عام 2007، عاد إلى السطح الموضوع الذي طالما أثار جدلا واسعاً وهو وضع الشريعة في القانون المصري. ومن ضمن أكثر المشاركات في النقاش الذي تلى هذه التعديلات مفاجأة كان ما أدلى به البابا شنودة الثالث. ففي موقف يتناقض جذرياً مع مواقفه السابقة التي اتخذها في السبعينات إبان صراعه مع الرئيس السادات حول أسلمة المجتمع المصري، اتخذ البابا شنودة موقفاً تصالحياً عام 2007 تجاه الاسلاميين.  وبالتأكيد فإن البابا قد جازف حين تبرأ من تصريح لأحد ...

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Copts and the Power over Personal Status

[Pope Kirollos VI and President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Photo from author's personal archive.]

When President Mubarak introduced amendments to the 1971 Constitution in the year 2007, the always contested issue of the status of sharia in Egyptian law reemerged in public discourse. Among the most unexpected contributions to the debate that ensued was that made by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, the late Pope Shenouda III. In stark contrast to positions he had adopted in the 1970s, at the height of his struggle with President Anwar Sadat over the ‘Islamization’ of ...

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Assiut, Qursaya, Mohamed Mahmoud: Making the Connections

[Graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

Mourning has seemed the order of the day in Egypt this week. Just as Egyptians prepared to remember and mourn the protesters who lost their lives at this time last year in the Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud, a train collision in Assiut killed fifty-one children, devastating the country. At first glance, the deaths at Mohamed Mahmoud would appear to have little in common with those at Assiut. The protesters were killed by security forces as they demonstrated against the military ...

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Egypt’s Constituent Assembly: Contempt and Counterrevolution

[Members of the Constituent Assembly at a public outreach event in Ismailia on 28 July 2012. Photo from Constituent Assembly’s facebook page.]

The constitution has taken center stage this week in Egypt’s fraught political transition. On Tuesday, Cairo’s Administrative Court referred the matter of the Constituent Assembly’s legality to the Supreme Constitutional Court, and the SCC is not expected to rule on the matter for at least two months. Advocates for the Assembly saw the Administrative Court decision as affording the constitution-writing body an opportunity to wrap up the work it has undertaken in the past ...

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Martyrdom at Maspero: Searching for Meaning

[Maspero protester. Image originally posted to Flickr by Hossam el-Hamalawy.]

One year ago, nearly thirty Egyptians, almost all Coptic Christians protesting against sectarian violence, were murdered as they marched on Maspero, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union building in downtown Cairo. The events of that day are seared into my memory despite the fact that I was thousands of miles away at the time ­— not least, the images of devastation and desolation that were photographed and videotaped at the Coptic Hospital as the victims of the ...

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On the Arab Uprisings, Canada Sticks Its Head in the Sand

[Image originally posted to Flickr by Ian Martin.]

Once upon a time, American tourists travelling in the Middle East were known to sew maple leaves onto their backpacks in the hope that masquerading as Canadians might stave off harangues about U.S. foreign policy. These days, they would be well advised to stick to Old Glory. At least the current president of the United States has made a rhetorical commitment to address the long-standing political differences between the U.S. and the Arab and Muslim worlds, even if he has not ...

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Activism in the Coptic Diaspora: A Brief Introduction

[Egyptian Copts pray in Tahrir Square during the protests. Image originally posted to Wikimedia Commons.]

With the breach of the US Embassy’s walls in Cairo and the killing of US officials in Benghazi, the attention of the international media has returned again to the aftermath of the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings. In the former case, much of the media focus has settled upon Coptic Christians, and specifically Copts in the diaspora, given the links between the offensive film that provoked the breach and a particular, rather obscure Coptic activist by the name of Maurice Sadiq. ...

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September 11th, Islamophobia, and the ‘Persecution Industry'

[Ground Zero in New York City. Image originally posted to Flickr by Al Jezeera English.]

In one of the last pieces he published at Salon before moving to The Guardian, the American columnist Glenn Greenwald mounted a devastating critique of what he labeled, in the article’s title, “The Sham ‘Terrorism Expert’ Industry.” In his inimitable style, Greenwald proceeded to discuss the work of several so-called terrorism experts — among them, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, J.M. Berger, and Fran Townsend — who have embraced the pretense of scholarly objectivity to justify the ...

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Islamists Took Over Years Ago

[Thousands of Islamists protested in Cairo's Tahrir square in objection to the disqualifying of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail from the 2012 presidential race. Image originally posted to Flickr by Jonathan Rashad.]

Twenty years ago, the French academic Olivier Roy published the book for which he is best known, “L’échec de l’Islam politique”, translated into English as The Failure of Political Islam. The title may sound comical today in the midst of the political upheaval we are witnessing, but, at the time of publication, one could make a considerable case to the effect that the Islamist project had failed. After all, back in 1992, Hosni Mubarak had managed to stave off the potential ...

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The Cultural Project of the Revolution

[The Muslim Brotherhood celebrates as Mohamed Morsi is announced Egypt's president. Image originally posted to Flickr by Johnathan Rashad.]

Anxiety is running high among Egypt’s liberals and secularists. President Mohamed Morsy and the Islamist constituency that elected him pose a threat to the character of the Egyptian state, according to such figures as Tahani al-Gebali and Mohamed Abou Hamed. And the threat has apparently become significantly greater now that former Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan have departed the political scene. No matter that, until recently, the purported ...

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Time to Reject the Language of Coptic Victimhood

[Coptic Christians praying in Tahrir Square. Image originally posted to Flickr by Aslan Media.]

The casual observer of Egypt’s politics could hardly be blamed for thinking that Egypt’s Copts are facing the worst crisis of their modern history. The first president of Egypt’s second republic is an Islamist who, despite resigning from the Muslim Brotherhood and embracing rhetoric of inclusion, remains beholden to the organization. Mohamed Morsy’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, has appointed only one Copt to his cabinet, Minister of Scientific Research Nadia Zakhary, ...

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Paul Sedra


Paul Sedra is Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University, and Middle East editor of the Wiley-Blackwell journal, History Compass.  He has taught at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto, and has published articles in Islam and Christian-Muslim RelationsComparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the Journal of Religious History, as well as the Middle East working paper series of Yale and Columbia Universities.  The principal focus of his research is the social and cultural history of the modern Middle East.  His most recent book, From Mission to Modernity: Evangelicals, Reformers and Education in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, was published by I.B. Tauris earlier this year.  In the book, Sedra examines the connections between education and the rise of the modern state in nineteenth-century Egypt. Paul is a Contributing Editor of the Pedagogy Page at Jadaliyya.


From Mission to Modernity: Evangelicals, Reformers and Education in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (London: I.B. Tauris and Company Limited, 2011).

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

“Exposure to the Eyes of God: Monitorial Schools and Evangelicals in Early Nineteenth-Century England,” Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education, first published on 06 May 2010 (iFirst), 1-19.

“Writing the History of the Modern Copts: From Victims and Symbols to Actors,” History Compass 7, 3 (2009), 1049-1063.

“John Lieder and his Mission in Egypt: The Evangelical Ethos at Work Among Nineteenth-Century Copts,” Journal of Religious History 28, 3 (October 2004), 219-239.

“Imagining an Imperial Race: Egyptology in the Service of Empire,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 24, 1 (2004), 249-259.

“Class Cleavages and Ethnic Conflict: Coptic Christian Communities in Modern Egyptian Politics,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 10, 2 (July 1999), 219-235.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

“The Patriarch and His Project: Cultivating a Coptic Community in Nineteenth-Century Egypt,” in Ramez Boutros, ed.Journal of the Canadian Society for Coptic Studies 1 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010), 109-120.  [N.B. A revised and edited version of the chapter published in the 2007 Boudraa and Krause volume, requested for inclusion in the inaugural issue of this journal.]

“Missionaries, Peasants, and the Protection Problem: Negotiating Coptic Reform in Nineteenth-Century Egypt,” in Abbas Amanat and Magnus T. Bernhardsson, eds. US-Middle East Historical Encounters (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2007).

“Schooling for a Modern Coptic Subjectivity in Nineteenth Century Egypt,” in  Nabil Boudraa and Joseph Krause, eds.North African Mosaic: A Cultural Reappraisal of Ethnic and Religious Minorities (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 196-213.

“The Journals of an Ottoman Student in England, July 1829 to January 1830,” in Camron Michael Amin, Benjamin C. Fortna, and Elizabeth Frierson, eds. The Modern Middle East: A Sourcebook for History (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), 401-405.

“Observing Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha and His Administration at Work, 1843-1846,” in Camron Michael Amin, Benjamin C. Fortna, and Elizabeth Frierson, eds. The Modern Middle East: A Sourcebook for History (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), 39-42.

“Modernity’s Mission: Evangelical Efforts to Discipline the Nineteenth-Century Coptic Community,” in Eleanor H. Tejirian and Reeva Spector Simon, eds. Altruism and Imperialism: The Western Religious and Cultural Missionary Enterprise in the Middle East, Middle East Institute Occasional Papers 4 (New York, New York: Columbia University Middle East Institute, 2002), 208-235.

“Ecclesiastical Warfare: Patriarch, Presbyterian, and Peasant in Nineteenth-Century Asyut,” in Abbas Amanat and Magnus T. Bernhardsson, eds. The United States and the Middle East: Cultural Encounters, YCIAS Working Paper Series Vol. V (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 2002), 290-314.

Encyclopaedia Entry

“Interreligious Dialogue,” in Peter N. Stearns, ed. Encyclopaedia of the Modern World: 1750 to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2008).

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