Copts in Egypt’s Textbooks


Copts Egypt Textbooks
Translation: Some pictures of the Roman persecution of Christians. Via Mada Masr.

There is a general understanding that Egypt’s Christians are marginalized in the educational curriculum.

An additional idea is that this came during an Islamization period in the 1970s, or perhaps during Nasser’s presidency.

A researcher examined this question and described them on Mada Masr. Here is his evaluation:

Based on an analysis of Egyptian history textbooks from 1890 until the academic year 2016/2017, it is clear that Egyptian history is narrated from a perspective that values an Arab Muslim identity over other perspectives and voices.

While the tone generally revers and paints Christianity in a positive light, the narrative as a whole is exclusionary in both explicit and subtle ways.

The article as a whole is insightful, and here is an example — of how textbooks changed:

Current history textbooks do not include explicit derogatory references to Christianity or Christians — as some of the earlier textbooks did. In fact, they include extremely positive mentions, albeit concise.

For instance, in explaining why ancient Egyptians embraced Christianity, a 2016 textbook explains that they were attracted by its values of justice, equality, mercy, empathy, tolerance, renouncement of worldly pleasures, and valuing of the afterlife.[11]

However, we need to also be cognizant of more subtle ways that might give value to one identity while diminishing or silencing others. In addition to continuing to use explicit and extensive Muslim referents as highlighted above, more subtle exclusions can also be found in current textbooks.

For instance, they use the word “Arab” to characterize countries such as Egypt and Lebanon even before they had been taken over by Arab Muslim armies. Such references give the historically inaccurate and false impression that these countries have always embraced an Arab identity, eclipsing the richness of their pre-existing civilizations and cultures.[12]

Additionally, several of these history textbooks have continued to address students as if they are all Muslim. For instance, an 1893 history textbook explains that the religious story of David and his son Solomon “must be learned by all Muslims.”[13]

Similarly, a 1988 history textbook encourages students to learn about the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca by asking their relatives who might have performed it.[14]

In discussing civic engagement, current textbooks encourage students to be proud of our Islamic principles and values that encourage us to volunteer in the community and peacefully co-exist with others different from ourselves.[15]

In Egypt it is sometimes necessary to ask the religion of the researcher, often indicated by name. Ehaab Abdou — I believe these names are shared by Muslims and Christians alike.

What is important, however, is quality. The article is too brief to fully evaluate, but he claims a comprehensive scope of research. I don’t have the background in the subject to know if he left out damning specifics; other Egyptians, please weigh in.

The one thing I noticed is that he did not specifically state he evaluated textbooks in the Azhar educational curriculum. Copts sometimes claim this is a source of bias against them.

But on the whole, the article appears to be an evenhanded treatment of a controversial subject.

Few things are as important as the education of our children — and ourselves.

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