Copts in Egyptian history textbooks since 1890 (Part 1): Are we asking the right questions? | MadaMasr
Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing recurring demands for the inclusion of Coptic history in textbooks, echoed in Pope Tawadros’s call to “teach Coptic history in schools.”
Sometimes it is implied, and sometimes explicitly argued, that there was a drastic curricular change that took place at a particular point in time — such as the Nasser era or the 1970s, when the Islamization of society was on the rise — before which Coptic history was more thoroughly covered. Such arguments have been put forward by some prominent scholars — such as Anwar Abdel Malek (1968) who locates these changes in the Nasser period — and continue to be propagated by several journalists and public intellectuals.
Such assertions naturally lead to simplistic demands to “include” Coptic history or increase the space allocated for it in textbooks. However, before simply demanding the inclusion of more Coptic history, we need to ask what content is to be included, and how we want that content to be presented. To be able to address these questions, I dedicate this first article to engaging with the general religious and thus exclusionary tone of these history textbooks, before turning in a second article to focus more specifically on how Copts and Coptic history are presented and ways to move forward.
The two articles are based on an analysis of all history textbooks available at the Egyptian Ministry of Education’s archives in Cairo, which go back to 1890. For ease of reference and verification by other researchers, for each textbook that I refer to, I include the Serial Number (SN), which refers to the unique number assigned to every textbook as listed in the archive’s catalogue. For instance, a history textbook with a serial number 25 is cited as SN25, etc. As for more recent textbooks that I mention, as these are not part of the archive, I refer to their grade levels and term number in brackets (1 or 2).
There is a widely circulated misconception that the content of textbooks — like other spheres of public life in Egypt — was mainly Islamized in the 1970s. A few scholars, such as Sana S. Hasan, have challenged this by arguing that such a shift took place even earlier during Nasser’s era in the 1950s, a period that witnessed an insertion of Islamic texts and Quranic verses in several subjects, such as Arabic. In fact, such a trend is discernible in the earliest textbooks available in the Ministry of Education archives, dating back to the late 1800s.
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.