In Selected Opinion

By Saba E. Demian –

Copts refers to the Christian Orthodox Egyptians and members of this branch of Orthodox Christianity around the world. A lot may be known globally about the Copts in Egypt but infrequently is the plight of the Copts in Egypt addressed or dealt with in a meaningful fashion. Certainly, a lot is left to be accomplished in so far as human rights are concerned and the redress of the woes they suffer. I wish to highlight this sad topic through two glaring examples which remain hush-hush. 

The first is the sport of Football, known by some as Soccer. It is the predominant sport in Egypt, in all walks of life, as it is around the world. This sport is revered and engages the attention of the public and even controls the lives of some. In the last hundred years or so there have been a handful of Coptic Egyptian players in the professional or amateur ranks of the sport. The Copts make up between 10 and 15% of the population. However, the official censor gives the lie to this number for many scurrilous reasons, the least of which is to prevent empowerment of Copts in any field of endeavor. The genealogy and DNA of all Egyptians, regardless of religious belief, is almost identical. The development and physiognomy are almost identical. This would negate a differentiation in competence, intellectual, physical or any other. At the high school level the Copts are as competent as any else in physical activities and sports.

In the private school sector outstanding Copts are tacitly denied access to the popular sports like professional Football and even at the collegiate level. Indeed, the prowess in athletics, in track and field, basketball and other sports, team and individual, is not contested. Farouk Tadros, a graduate of the English Mission College (EMC) and the Egyptian Military Academy was the Egyptian champion and Pan-Arab champion and record holder of the 400 meter dash at 48.1 seconds for close to two decades. The world championship in professional Squash was held for six successive years by Amin, a Copt who studied at London University in the fifties of last century. The amateur world champion in Squash was Shafik, another Copt. Nagy Faltas, another graduate of the EMC, was a member of the 4 x 400 meter relay team at the Mediterranean Sea-basin State Games in 1958. He was the Egyptian junior champion in the 200 and 400 meters for two years in succession. A classmate of mine Sonia Nematallah, a Copt, was the women’s singles tennis champion of Egypt. A Coptic shot putter in the eighties was ranked number 10 in the world and represented Egypt in two Olympic Games in succession. Tewfik Saad and George Al-Egaizi, both Coptic gymnasts, represented Egypt in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This is proof positive that the Copts of Egypt are second to none, recognized in the individual sports, but denied access to excel in the widely popular team ranks such as Football/Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, etc. a glaring gap.

The Archeology Departments in all the Universities in Egypt, with Faculties of Arts, don’t have a single faculty member or student who is Coptic. The late Professor Dr. Zaki Iskander was the Chief Chemist at the Egyptian Museum for decades in the forties, fifties and sixties until his death in the seventies. He also was the professor of Chemistry at the EMC. Along with Kamal El-Mallakh who discovered the Sun Boat at the foot of the Great Pyramid are world renowned in this fieldIt is curious but not that puzzling that Copts don’t rise in the ranks in Archeology. Those employed are performing menial tasks away from the main action, as it were. Professor Dr. Paul Ghaliongi, chairman of the department of Endocrinology at the Faculty of Medicine, Ain Shams University wrote the treatise of Medicine in Ancient Egypt with over seven hundred prescriptions cited. His fluency in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Coptic, Arabic and English were not so amazing considering the stature of the man. The museum of Coptic artifacts in Cairo has minimal financial support from the government. This heritage goes back to the dawn of Christianity.

The history of ancient and modern Egyptology is replete with Copts who assisted and personally endeavored to uncover the glories of Egypt from the depth. The Coptic language, considered a ‘dead language’ though, it, along with other languages, primarily Arabic, is the language of worship in the Coptic Orthodox Churches around the world. I shan’t delve further in the sad history of the death of this language, the enchorial language of the Ancient Egyptians. This language recorded Egyptian History and affairs until the middle of the thirteenth century AD. One of the cradles of Christianity is the great city of Alexandria when the Evangelist St. Mark came in the beginning of the fifth decade of the first century AD and preached the Gospel of Salvation. Unfortunately, the Coptic alphabet was replaced by the Ancient Greek with the addition of seven consonants. Had it been replaced by the Latin the history of the Copts may have been different. Voluminous records in manuscript form reside in monasteries in Egypt and spread far and wide in museums and university libraries around the globe. The point I am making is, to further Egypt’s standing among the nations; all its assets including the Copts must be brought to bear to this effort.   

Saba E. Demian, M.D. – Retired Professor of Laboratory Medicine LSU, USC Schools of Medicine:
Photo Credit: AFP Photo / Mohamed El-Shahed

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