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Hansen, Henrik L., Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt: Politics, Society and Interfaith Encounters

Minlib Dallh
p. 314-315
Référence(s) :

Hansen, Henrik L., Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt: Politics, Society and Interfaith Encounters, London, I.B. Tauris, 2015, 1 vol., 283 p.

Texte intégral

1In this book, Henrik L. Hansen offers a remarkable sociological approach to the complex web of Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. This monograph is particularly significant because Egypt has the largest Christian community (primarily Copts) in the Middle East and holds a premier place in Sunni Arab political and theological imagination. Hansen focuses on the critical role of religion in Egyptian society and politics and shows how clientelism rules the navigation and negotiation of social identities and interfaith discourse. Building upon many years of experience in Cairo, the author offers a penetrating analysis of societal dynamics and networks that operate in Egypt.

2In five chapters, the author shows the theoretical framework needed to understand the context of dialogue in Egypt. The first chapter focuses on the diversity of dialogue initiatives, the second chapter provides the historical and societal background of dialogue, and the third chapter delves into the controversial issues of legal and mostly social discrimination and punctual sectarian violence. Hansen speaks of everyday incident (personal and systemic) and grand incidents. In my view, the heart of the book is the fourth chapter. The first section of this chapter analyses the three discourses of dialogue (boxing match dialogue, official dialogue, and social dialogue) which is closely linked to the famous Azhar University-Mosque, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Coptic Orthodox Church. The second section focuses on the organizations and institutions initiating the dialogue (such as other Christian communities, academic and grassroots dialogue, etc...). Finally, the book concludes by interrogating the fate of dialogue and the social identity of faith communities after the 2011 and 2013 revolutions. What have changed during the short rule of the Muslim Brothers and above all the coup d’État and rise to power of General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi? Hansen believes that “with the revolutions the social construction of Egyptian socio-political reality is being renegotiated and the question of the Christians has become central…”

3It seems to me that history appears to be repeating itself. Hansen could have drawn a comparison between the support of Pope Kyrillos VI to Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the mid 1960s and Pope Tawadros II’s rally to el-Sissi today. One of the most consistent political stands of the Coptic Orthodox Church is to partner with the regime for fear of the sectarian vision of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups. The Coptic leadership had pursued a neo-millet relationship with different military regimes and consequently secured pre-eminence in Coptic minority affairs. Influential figures like the former UN secretary, Boutros Boutros Ghali, and Tewfik Aclimandos, professor at the College de France, have publicly declared their full support to el-Sissi. Even though there are lay movements and diasporic activists who challenge the neo-millet system, most Copts remained deferential to the Church leadership.

4It is no wonder that Egyptians Muslim intellectuals like the influential writer and activist Alaa el-Aswany criticized this Faustian bargain that compromises democratic governance and strengthens military authoritarian regimes. The real question that this book initiates is “what are the prospects for the future of Christian-Muslim relations and the status of Copts in Egypt under el-Sissi regime? Will the Coptic Orthodox Church perpetuate the neo-millet partnership with the military regime or will Copts embrace a republican alternative under the banner of liberal opposition parties? The other question this book does not really address is the ‘radical flank effectʼ of the Coptic diasporic activism. It is a double edge sword. On the one hand, it forces the Egyptian government to protect and provide a moderate representation for Copts; but on the other hand, it feeds underlying islamophobia and further alienates a significant segment of Egyptian Muslims who are already hostile to the Copts by providing them with excuses to question their loyalty.

5All in all this book offers a compelling view on the conundrum of Muslim-Christian relations in the most important Arab Sunni country, and will be particularly helpful for students, scholars and people engaged in interfaith dialogue in the Middle East.

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Référence papier

Minlib Dallh, « Hansen, Henrik L., Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt: Politics, Society and Interfaith Encounters », MIDÉO, 32 | 2017, 314-315.

Référence électronique

Minlib Dallh, « Hansen, Henrik L., Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt: Politics, Society and Interfaith Encounters », MIDÉO [En ligne], 32 | 2017, mis en ligne le 23 avril 2017, consulté le 23 octobre 2018. URL :

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Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales

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