Examining the Reasons Behind Deepening Coptic-Muslim Cleavage in Egypt Based On Migdal’s Theory

Document Type : Research Paper


Regional Studies, Law and Political Science, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Examining the Reasons Behind Deepening Coptic-Muslim Cleavage in Egypt Based On Migdal’s Theory
Violence against the Egyptian Orthodox Christian Community-The Copts-has been increasing since the 1970s and especially following 2011 revolution. This research aims to examine the reasons behind the deepening Coptic-Muslim cleavages and in line with this, the relations between the Coptic community and the Egyptian state in different periods since Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970 until the present time is examined based on the “State in Society” theoretical framework which was provided by Joel. S. Migdal. Examining the cases of violence against Copts by the majority Muslim population under Sadat, Mubarak leadership and since the 2011 revolution to date showed that the main cause would seem to be the lack of a strong state and state institutions that can guarantee all citizens’ constitutional rights while the presence of strong social forces and a fragmented social control. Over the last five decades the Egyptian leaders have pursued survival strategies and have become a big part of the problem by practicing divide and rule policy to survive in a fragmented society. Thus, we reached to the conclusion the Migdal theory can be applied to other cases of religious and ethnic cleavages elsewhere in the third world.
Keywords: Egypt, Coptic-Muslim Cleavage, Religious Strife, Weak State, Strong Social Forces, The Politics of Survival, Survival Strategies


  1. 1.     al-Aswani, Ala (2011). On the State of Egypt. The Issues that Caused the Revolution, (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press), pp. 131-132.

    2.     Ansari, H. (1984). “Sectarian Conflict in Egypt and the Political Expediency of Religion,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 38, Summer.

    1. Asher-Schapiro, Avi (2012). Is the Government-Church Alliance a Coptic Marriage? Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    2. Brownlee Jason & Joshua, Stacher (2011). Change of Leader, Continuity of System:Nascent Liberalization in Post-Mubarak Egypt, APSA-CD 9, No. 2.
    3. El-Ghobashy, Mona (2011). The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution, MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project) Reports 258.
    4. Elyas, Patrick Victor (2012). No longer Dhimmis: How European Intervention in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries Empowered Copts in Egypt, University of Pennsylvania.
    5. Fadl, Essam (2011). “Prosecution Investigates Interior Minister’s Alleged Involvement in Church Attack,” Daily News Egypt. Available at: https://dailynewsegypt.com/ 2011/02/07/prosecution-investigates-interior-min-alleged-involvement-in-church-attack/
    6. Fastenrath and Kazanjian  (2008). “Important Factors for Church Building in Egypt,” Arab-West Paper 4, pp. 26–28.
    7. Henderson, Randall P. (2005). “The Egyptian Coptic Christians: The Conflict between Identify and Equality,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. No. 2, pp.155-166.
    8. Leveugle, Samantha C. (2014). “The Copts and the Egyptian State”, International Studies, Available at: http://www.urop.uci.edu/journal/journal13/02_leveugle.pdf
    9. Row, Paul S. (2009). “Building Coptic Civil Society: Christian Groups and the State in Mubarak’s Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies, No. 1, pp. 111-126
    10. Sedra, Paul (1999). “Class Cleavages and Ethnic Conflict: Coptic Christian Communities in Modern Egyptian Politics,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. No. 2, pp. 219-235.
    11. Smith Charles D. (2005). “The Egyptian Copts: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Definition of Identity for Religious Minority,” in: Maya SHatzmiller, ed., Nationalism and Minority Identities in Islamic Societies (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press)
    12. Soliman, Samer (2011). “The Autumn of Dictatorship. Fiscal Crisis and Political Change in Egypt under Mubarak,” Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
    13. Trapper, R. (1992). ‘Some Minorities in the Middle East,’ Occasional Papers 9 (London, School of Oriental and African Studies)
    14. Wakin, Edward (1963). “A lonely Minority: The Modern Story of Egypt Copts,” New York: William Marrow & Company.
    15. Zeidan, David (1999). “The Copts-Equal, Protected or Prosecuted? The Impact of Islamization on Muslim-Christian Relations in Modern Egypt,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol. 10, No. 1.

    5.     Brownlee, Jason (2013). Violence Against Copts in Egypt, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nov. 2013.

    6.     Chitham, E. J. (1986). The Coptic Community in Egypt: Spatial and Social Change’, (Durham: Centre of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, 1986)

    7.     Doorn-Harder, Nelly Van (2011). ‘Egypt: Does the Revolution Include the Copts?’, Open Democracy [on line. Available at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/nelly-van-doorn-harder/egypt-does-revolution-include-copts.

    11.  Farah, Nadia Ramses (1986). Religious Strife in Egypt: Crisis and Ideological Conflict in the Seventies, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, New York)

    14.  Ibrahim, Saad Eddin, et al., (1996). The Copts of Egypt, Minority Rights Group International. Available at: http://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/old-site-downloads/download-111-The-Copts-of-Egypt.pdf

    15.  Ibrahim, Vivian (2011). The Copts of Egypt: Challenges of Modernization and Identity, Tauris Academic Studies, London, New York.

    16.  Iskandar, Elizabeth (2012). “Sectarian Conflict in Egypt (Coptic Media, Identity and Representation”, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, London & New York. Available online at: https://books.google.com/books?id=aIXYXxuBTqoC&pg=PA79&lpg= PA79 &dq=al-khanka+sadat&source=bl&ots=_7liI9B_O4&sig=kryL7vj6sOYM7Cg99 QG3ARfTXsw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjQ7amyqMDVAhUGKlAKHQarBbwQ6AEIKzAB#v=onepage&q=al-khanka%20sadat&f=false

    17.  Jason, Brownlee & Joshua, Stacher (2011), Change of Leader, Continuity of System: Nascent Liberalization in Post-Mubarak Egypt, APSA-CD 9, No. 2, May 2011

    18.  Kartveit, Bard Helge (2017). “Egyptian Copts Under Attack: The Fraility of a National Unity Discourse,” Middle East Institute, Available at: http://www.mei.edu/content/map/egyptian-copts-under-attack-frailty-national-unity-discourse.

    20.  Melcangi, Alessia (2012). Before and After the Revolution: A Spring Also for the Copts of Egypt, Annual Conference 1012, LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science-London, United Kingdom.

    21.  Migdal , Joel S. (1988). Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jercy, Full text available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=lbEM3qyWIqgC&lpg=PP1&ots=F1zEQrvl8R&dq=%27Strong%20Societies%20and%20Weak%20States%3A%20State-society%20Relations%20in%20the%20Third%20World%27&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    22.  Migdal, Joel S. (2004). State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another, Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics, Cambridge University Press.

    23.  Osman, Noha Azmy & Saied, Louay Mahmoud (2015). “A New Version of the Copts of Egypt: State Policy and Inner Difficulties (1948-1957): In Light of US State Department State Documets,” Kyoto Bulletin of Islamic Area Studies, 8, pp. 103-140.

    24.  Pennington, J.D. (1982). “The Copts in Modern Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 18. No. 2, pp.158-179.



    1. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/185963/Egypt/Politics-/Egyptian-writer-Fatima-Naoot-sentenced-to--years-i.aspx (accessed on:  Jan. 26, 2016)
    2. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/2211/roundtable-on-post-mubarak-egypt_ authoritarianism (accessed on: July 23, 2011)
    3. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0728/In-Egypt-journey-down-a-Nile-of-discontent (accessed on: July 28, 2013)
    4. https://www.dawn.com/news/627142/egypt-warns-of-iron-hand-to-halt-religious-unrest AFP, (accessed on: May 9, 2011)
    5. https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/copts-of-egypt-politics-ISIS-el-Sisi  (accessed on: Apr. 24, 2017)
    6. https://www.voanews.com/a/egypts-copts-welcome-change-of-government/1705153. html, (accessed on: July 19, 2013)
    7. https://dailynewsegypt.com/2013/02/12/thirty-nine-percent-drop-in-morsi-votes-if-elections-held-tomorrow/  (accessed on: Feb.  12, 2013)
    8. http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2013/07/16/Egyptian-gov-sworn-33-ministers-3-women-3-Copts_9031450.html  (accessed on: July 16, 2013)
    9. https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/23/egypt-sectarian-attacks-amid-political-crisis  (accessed on: July 13, 2013)
    10. http://www.mei.edu/content/brothers-and-copts  (accessed on: Aug.12, 2013)
    11. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ru/originals/2014/07/egypt-coptic-christians-sisi-secular -islamist.html (accessed on: July 7, 2014)
    12. https://eipr.org/en/press/2015/06/%E2%80%9Cwhose-customs-role-customary-reconciliation-sectarian-disputes-and-state, (accessed on: June 10, 2015)
    13. https://www.ft.com/content/11d92d14-5761-11e7-9fed-c19e2700005f?mhq5j=e1 July 11,2017

    44.  https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2016/06/20/what-egypt-under-sissi-is-really-like-for-coptic-christians/  (accessed on: June 20, 2016)

    45.  https://www.madamasr.com/en/2016/09/19/news/u/coptic-activists-criticize-churchs-support-of-sisis-new-york-visit/ (accessed on: Sept. 19 ,2016)

    46.  https://eipr.org/en/blog/ishak-ibrahim/2016/12/how-can-egypt-prevent-another-pre-christmas-bombing (accessed on: Dec. 13, 2016)

    47.  http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/12/09/how-egypts-copts-fell-out-of-love-with-president-sisi/  (accessed on: Dec. 16, 2016)