If I Were a Copt.
By Tarek Heggy
In February, 1987 Pope Shenouda III read my article about the Egyptian National hero Saad Zaghloul (1859-1927) and the Copts.This article was thence published by the famous Egyptian daily al-Akhbar (the article entitled " Saad Zaghloul and the unity of the two elements of the Egyptian nation " is posted in Arabic, French & English by
Between February, 1987 and February, 2012 I had in excess of 60 long meetings (from a minimum of two hours to two full days together in the desert). In these four-eye meetings, we talked about post-Mohamed-Aly Egypt, the history of the Alexandria Cathedral (St. Marc Cathedral) that was established by St. Marc the Evangelist in 42 AD, Egyptian Monasticism, the famous Coptic Patriarchs, the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and Chalcedony 451 AD in particular and spent numerous hours discussing extremely complicated theological problematics ( particularly the history of Monosphyites).When I participated (with others) some 15 years ago in the inception the first chair of Coptic studies at The American University in Cairo (AUC) he was quite worried that the chair might teach non-Coptic Theology ! Though Pope Shenouda III was genuinely passionate and emotional, he never touched me as he did when he read my article "If I were a Copt" ... since he started reading this short piece till the last word, his tears did stop falling on the text of the article that I still have (with the Pope's tears mixed
with the black ink).
Though this happened at the Pope's residence at St. Marc Cathedral west of Alexandria, his very special voice is still in my ears reminding me of what he uttered after reading "If I were a Copt" : it is the most passionate and forceful statement ever made about this very topic and ironically by a non-Christian ". This short article was translated into 16 languages. At least the Italian, French, English and Arabic versions are posted by http://www.tarek-heggy.com under the following titles : Se fossi un copto + Si J'étais Copte + If I Were a Copt + itha konto qeptian .... If you google the title of this article "if I were a Copt" in any European language, a translation of this piece would be found ....
If I Were a Copt.
By Tarek Heggy
If I were a Copt I would have split the skies of Egypt and the world with the sound of my voice decrying the oppressive climate in which Egypt's Copts are living today.
- If I were a Copt I would have let the world know of the inequity that has plagued the lives of many Copts since 1952 and kept them from occupying the political and senior administrative posts they deserve.
- If I were a Copt I would have cried out against the gross injustice of making me pay taxes allocated by the State to Al-Azhar which does not admit Copts to any of its faculties.
- If I were a Copt I would have vented my anger at being forced to pay taxes that are used to build tens of mosques when the Egyptian state has not paid a penny in the construction of a single church since 1952, with the exception of a donation made by President Nasser forty years ago towards the costs of building St. Mark's Cathedral in Abbaseya.
- If I were a Copt I would have raised my voice against the absence of a single Copt from many legislative councils in Egypt today.
- If I were a Copt I would have written one article after another about the way the mass media ignore my concerns and religious feasts as though Egypt's Coptic population does not exist.
- If I were a Copt I would have let the whole world know how Egypt's Coptic history is not given its rightful due in Egyptian educational curricula and how the study of the Arabic language in schools is no longer the study of literary texts, poetry, novels, plays and short stories but of Islamic scripture which rightfully belongs in classes teaching religion to Muslim students.
- If I were a Copt I would have made the world sit up and take notice of the difficulties Copts have in obtaining a license to build a church [out of their own funds, not from the proceeds of the taxes to which they contribute].
- If I were a Copt I would have brought to the attention of international public opinion the outrageous comments made by some Muslim writers about Copts, such as their contention that Copts should never assume public governance, that they should pay the gezya [a special tax imposed on non-Muslims in medieval times], and that they should not serve in the armed forces. I would have translated obscurantist writings like the nonsense published by Dr. Mohamed Emara with funding from Al-Azhar, whose budget is made up of the contributions of taxpayers, including Copts, who are then vilified in books published at the expense of the state.
- If I were a Copt I would have led a campaign both inside the country and abroad demanding the removal of the box marked "Religion" from the Egyptian identity card. For why should any person dealing with me need to know what religion I belong to?
- If I were a Copt I would have led a campaign against the Egyptian bureaucracy that has allowed the Personal Status Law for non-Muslims to fester in closed drawers for nearly a quarter of a century, leading Copts to refer to it jokingly as the Personal Disaster Law instead of the Personal Status Law (a play on the letter "h" in the Arabic word ahwal, or status which, depending on whether it is pronounced gutturally or glottally, gives these two very different meanings].
- If I were a Copt I would have let the world know the Coptic issue in Egypt is but one manifestation of a mindset that has taken hold in this region of the world, and called upon humanity as a whole to force it to retreat from its dark and dangerous path.