Of course the Coptic working class has swung behind Ahmed Shafiq, veteran Air Marshall and last Prime Minister during the Presidency of that other one, Hosni Mubarak. As the bearer of the Sadat-Mubarak tradition, his only problem for the Copts is that he is not enough of a nationalist, whether Egyptian or Arab. To the late Pope Shenouda III, Egypt was “not a country we live in, but a country that lives within us”. Following his recent funeral on a national day of mourning and with the rulers of the nation in attendance, that same Air Force flew his body for burial at the monastery to which he had once been banished by Sadat for his opposition to the Camp David Accords.
But again I say, of course.
In its day, American Protestant missionary activity has had an important impact in the region. Its universities, untainted by association with British or French colonialism, nurtured generations of Arab nationalist leaders, Muslim and Christian alike. As did those with the most interest in defining the local and putatively national identity as Arab rather than Islamic, namely the ancient indigenous Christians. That was, and very largely still is, Arab nationalism: the fruitful encounter between, on the one hand, indigenous Catholicism and Orthodoxy, including the Oriental Orthodoxy that is not really Monophysite at all, and, on the other hand, the educational opportunities opened up by American “mainline” Protestants.
Alas, the numerical decline of Episcopalianism and of “mainline” Presbyterianism, Lutheranism and Methodism in American society has had an impact on, especially, the Republican Party, while the not coincidental decline of those bodies from the doctrinal and moral orthodoxy that, among other things, sends missionaries has cut them off from the wider Anglican, “Calvinist”, Lutheran and Methodist worlds.
However, the wonderful Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee, Elias Chacour, one of the greatest men of the present age and whose Nobel Peace Prize is long overdue, has founded and heads the first Arab university within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. It is a branch of the University of Indianapolis, an institution of the United Methodist Church, the largest “mainline” denomination. He also holds honorary doctorates from Duke and Emory, both of which are United Methodist foundations, and he has been honoured with the World Methodist Peace Award.
The politically electrifying union of popular Catholicism and Orthodoxy with an academic leadership defined by traditional, not fundamentalist, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism and Methodism in their American expressions has happened before. It was specifically and successfully a bulwark against political Islam, as well as against Marxism. It was called the Arab nationalism of the Near East. It is still there. Including – indeed, now primarily – in Israel. And, very demonstrably, among the electors of Egypt. Meanwhile, Iran, with her reserved parliamentary representation for Armenians, Assyrians, Jews (yes, Jews) and Zoroastrians, is aiding the defenders of Christian, Shi’ite, Alawite and Druze Syria, and thus also Lebanon, against the agents of our dear friend and brother, the resurgent Caliphate of Turkey.
All is far from lost.
All is far from lost.