Chapter 7 Christian and Muslim Home Missions in Egypt in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: Between Preaching and Social Care

In: Missions and Preaching
Author:
Gaétan du Roy FNRS, LaRHis/ Radboud University

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Abstract

The history of Christians and Muslims in Egypt are often studied separately. The situations of Muslims and Christians are indeed very different—the structures of power differ, the fact of being a minority for Christians, many theological differences etc.—but the social context is mostly similar. The histories of religious reformist movements among Muslims and Christians share a lot of similarities. One possibility to approach the subject would be to propose parallel histories showing differences and common points. Another one would look for transversal ways of analysing inside missions (Egyptian missions trying to convert/reform Egyptians). Alain Roussillon’s body of work on reformism (social, religious and political) can help develop this second option of research. This communication would like to show how “reformism” can be a useful paradigm to analyse a particular and central aspect of both Christian and Muslim missionary movements: the mission targeting poor people and intending at the same time to fight superstitions and to reform their social behaviours perceived as backward.

Introduction

Too often Islamic and Christian studies constitute separate domains, a situation Birgit Meyer and Marloes Janson, two scholars of Western Africa, have recently criticised.1 As is often the case, the dominant field ignores the other, while the latter does not have the luxury to do the same. Academic boundaries have been reinforced alongside the growing interest in Islamist movements, probably also related in the case of Egypt to a “discomfort” with the Coptic minority among scholars of the Middle East. Indeed, Copts are at the same time victims of discrimination and sharers of the religion of colonial, and later imperialist, powers. In Western countries, solidarity with the Copts and other Middle Eastern Christian groups has sometimes been associated with unnuanced views on Islam, portrayed as an inherently violent religion, and has given birth to an important non-academic literature.2 On the other side of the spectrum, a great number of scholars working on Islam are inclined to present Muslims as direct and indirect victims of imperialism and colonisation, a view nurtured by the environment of racism lived by Muslims in the West and somehow generalised to analyse the situation of countries in which Islam is the main religion. For these reasons, Copts often appear as an uneasy object of research, as some scholars hesitate to give Islamist movements and ideas any share of responsibility in the discriminations and violence lived by Egyptian Christians.3

Islamism has captured the attention of the academic world and has become a battlefield for different schools of thought.4 In the field of studies dedicated to Islamic revivals and political Islam, intellectual and religious genealogies often occupy a central place. The analyses of religious evolutions are frequently introduced by a short history of Islamist thinking, starting with Muhammad Abdu and Rashid Rida, and then continuing with Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and even sometimes Yusuf al-Qaradawi, while some authors begin their narratives with the birth of Islam. This leaves little space for social history and more complex views on religious changes in Egypt during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.5 Reintegrating the Copts into the picture, I argue, could help complexify the image of these socio-religious changes.6 Comparing Coptic and Muslim attitudes could, for example, allow a better understanding of the role religious ideas played in these evolutions. Why and how have different theologies and clerical organisations given birth to very similar ways of living and thinking? Copts and Muslims express similar ideas on many subjects, among others on the place of women and men in society; they mostly share the same social habits, speak the same language, watch the same movies, and eat the same food (except for pork).7 Indeed, many attitudes, such as gender perceptions, depend in Egypt as elsewhere on social class more than on religious belonging. Christians and Muslims evolved in the same social contexts and lived parallel and interconnected religious changes from at least the 1920s, when growing numbers of Egyptians accessed education and became active in society, and increasingly from the 1970s. Studying these intermingled processes, I suggest, could help us to unfold this complex historical process.

In this chapter, I will suggest some leads for a connected approach of Egyptian religious history over the last 100 years through the lens of “home missions.”8 Home missions designate religious missions promoted by inhabitants of a particular country which are targeting fellow citizens. They consisted, in the Egyptian context, of a mix of social care and preaching and they particularly targeted the countryside when they started during the interwar period, and later (from the mid-1960s) the urban quarters inhabited by rural migrants. Those missions were mainly driven by the will to inculcate new ways of being Christian or Muslim in “poor” and “uneducated” Egyptians. The latter were often seen and described as “ignorant” and “superstitious”. These “missionaries,” who were generally city dwellers, promoted renewed/reformed religious behaviours but also ways of behaving in society, of dressing and of complying with new hygiene standards. This urban ethos was part of the self-perception of an emerging class called the effendis (see below).

This phenomenon will be approached through a comparison between Christians and Muslims, and a special attention to connections, i.e. to the interactions of these religious groups and the mutual influences they had on each other, as well as their relations to foreign actors operating in the country.9 Islamism and religious reformism have been regularly described as a reaction to the West, which is certainly true, but an exclusive focus on this aspect can lead to a neglect of the importance of internal social dynamics, particularly class relations, or the urban-rural divide. I will trace the history of home missions and show how religious and social factors intermingled as religiously-minded activists and effendi reformists shared many assumptions regarding those whom they considered as being their “inferiors.” Indeed, they described their mission as a struggle against “backward” habits, including religious ones, considered to be superstitions and, in the case of Christians, also the result of Muslim influences. As Alain Roussillon has shown, the option of reforming society through science and religion has since the nineteenth century presented “structural homologies” as it was adopted by a great variety of actors at the same moment and in very similar terms.10 Those ideals often intersected and combined on the ground. They converged in describing the poor in mostly negative terms, as people to be reformed in order to make them fit the ideal of what being modern meant to these reformers. A possible way to describe socio-religious evolutions in Egypt during the last 100 years thus consists in scrutinising the perceptions of the poor and the central role of interactions linked to social care and religious preaching in the Egyptian social fabric.

This text was born out of a research I conducted on a Coptic priest, Father Samʿān, and his mission among the zabbālīn, the community of Christian garbage collectors settled on the Muqaṭṭam hills in the Eastern fringes of Cairo.11 While tracing back the genealogy of the Coptic priest’s religious and social action, questions arose as to how these types of missions to the poor were launched and organised, and as to their relation to social work, as well as to religious revivals both Islamic and Coptic. The fact that the zabbālīn attracted the attention of many actors (the World Bank, Coptic bourgeoises, Samʿān, a French nun called Sœur Emmanuelle, Coptic engineers, journalists, researchers, movie makers …) encouraged me to trace the connections between Samʿān’s mission and other social spheres such as development, local politics, and social care. This allowed me to understand that studying religiously motivated endeavours to help and proselytise to the poor could be a very fruitful manner in which to investigate social and religious changes in Egypt and to better grasp how these two aspects are mutually bounded. My chapter is thus meant as an exploration of a field that would certainly need more research to fulfil all its promises. It will be divided into a broad historical presentation of religious home missions until the 1970s and then a microanalyse of Father Samʿān’s action among the Coptic garbage collectors. This later part will allow sketching some characteristic features of urban missions—Muslims as well as Christians—in informal areas and to underline how they emerged at the confluent of religious missions, development and local clientelism. I hope that other scholars will show interest in entering this discussion and rectify my inevitable approximations while trying to survey 100 years of a rich history.

1 Social Services and Home Missions

Helping the poor is an old story in Egypt but colonisation and the activism of foreign Christian missions had a decisive influence and triggered a strong development of local movements of preaching and social care.12 Catholic and Protestant missionary activities developed considerably in the nineteenth century. On the Catholic side, mainly French and Italian missions founded schools and health services first targeting the upper classes (mostly Europeans and Levantines) and later extending their action to other layers of society.13 Protestant missions were more varied in terms of size, religious orientation, origin and specialisation, but they were dominated by the American Presbyterian Mission, by far the largest, sharing the field with, among others, the Anglican Church Missionary Society.14 Partly as a reaction to missionary activities in the field of education and charity, Egyptians from the well-off classes—Christians as well as Muslims—developed philanthropic institutions from the late nineteenth century onwards to help needy Egyptians. A sense of the need to care for the poor, a domain of activity that had been covered before by Islamic foundations, had slowly appeared in ruling circles since Muhammad Ali (1805–1848) and was taken over by the elites when state expenses dedicated to these domains were severely reduced under British rule. This slowly translated into concrete initiatives such as the Islamic Benevolent Society born in 1879 and the Coptic Endeavour Benevolent Society founded in 1881.15 According to Lisa Pollard, for example, “By the outbreak of World War I, there were at least twenty Islamic benevolent societies, a dozen Coptic societies, and an equal number of Jewish societies in both Cairo and Alexandria.”16

During the interwar period, elite efforts in the field of social care did not decrease but they were paralleled by a strong movement of home missions involving lower classes in society. These missions were led by Egyptians and targeted other Egyptians. Their members were mostly searching to reform what they perceived as deviant religious and social habits of the poor and uneducated. This movement emerged from the effendis’ will to affirm their role in modernising the nation, which entailed a new vision of poverty. While the poor had always been considered “as part of God’s given order, […] [i]n effendi culture, however, poverty, inequality and illness come to represent something unnatural; they are the signs of backwardness, symptoms of a society being sick.”17 These effendis can barely be described as a middle class in the socio-economic sense usually attributed to this category in Western countries, but probably more, as Lucie Ryzova has shown, as “the idea of it.”18 Ryzova portrays them as “a growing public constituted from among the unprivileged, but not destitute, urban and rural social groups,” which “was the product of struggles for education and literacy,” a group animated “by the desire to be upwardly mobile in terms of both status and material well-being.”19 This emergent class played a great role in grassroots reformist movements. As they could not really access the status of a middle class (at least economically), they needed to position themselves in the constantly evolving social order both in relation to the ideal of European modernity and to the other layers of Egyptian society. Endorsing a patronising role towards lower classes gave this heteroclite group a social role and a place in society. Reformists wanted to promote deep changes in society even if they were moved by different ideals. Some wanted to take inspiration from a golden age set in the past, while others sought to promote a society run by modern science.

Home missions were thus the outcome of a strong ambition to reform society and to face the challenge of Western powers’ influence and domination, under particularly difficult economic circumstances. It is, for instance, “the fusion of Modernist notions of social change and order with Islamist visions of mobilisation that undergird the key projects of the Islamic Revival.”20 Sebastian Elsässer has depicted these partisans of religious revivalism and religious reform in these terms:

While revivalists framed their project as one of restoring tradition and returning to some golden age in which society was still in conformity with God’s order, their actual ideal was a combination of religious revival and social reform, of modernization and a purified and revitalized tradition, with the aim of countering the evils and dangers of modern society by investing the latter with religious meaning and authority. Progress was to be tied to religious norms and mobilized on the side of religious revival: the fight against poverty, ignorance, disease, and crime was an integral part of any revivalist agenda.21

To give one striking example related to the zabbālīn case study, in 1927 a Christian association called Khalāṣ al-Nufūs (The Salvation of Souls) was founded in Assiut. This group of preachers coming from the new educated class strongly emulated Presbyterian missions’ methods of preaching. Its members would gather to read and comment on the Bible and then tour the surrounding countryside to preach in villages where access to the Scriptures was still scarce.22 This association, which created branches all over Egypt over the ensuing decades,23 appeared just a year before Hassan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, Khalāṣ al-Nufūs was similar in many aspects to other Muslim associations that flourished from the 1920s except regarding political activism. These resemblances are no surprise, as the Muslim Brothers were themselves borrowing many aspects from Protestant and Catholic missions’ outreach techniques:

Taking a page from the missionaries’ script, the Brothers rewrote it for their own purposes. The copying and adapting was local and specific: a school answered a school, a factory challenged an industrial workshop, a branch of Muslim Sisters responded to Bible women.24

A perfect example of this “mimetic rivalry”25 is the Muslim Youth Association, created in 1928 as a clear counterpart to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) which had been launched earlier in Egypt.26 Many other religious associations appeared in those years, often mixing social and religious activities.27 However, this emulation was not totally new and had known precedents in intellectual circles. In the 1910s the famous Islamic thinker Rashid Rida (1865–1935) had carefully studied Western missions’ role and methods, which he admired for their efficiency even if he denounced their influence and sought to hinder them on the ground. Rida even created in 1912 in Cairo a short-lived Muslim seminary intended to train Muslim missionary preachers, largely influenced by the American protestant model.28

This missionary endeavour contributed strongly to modernisation and secularisation processes in Egypt. Different spheres of social life increasingly tended to specialise and differentiate from one another. As law, education, economy, and literature, progressively emerged as autonomous domains, a new conception of religion appeared, reshaped by a search for social utility.29 Religion’s (relative) autonomy made it in some respects available for different social purposes. This move was related to a new conception of society which was “not perceived anymore as a set of relations depending on naturalised hierarchies but as a system, or an organic whole, regulated by functional interactions and existing objectively, independently from individuals.”30 Religious attitudes and ideas came to be judged “by their utility in performing social work.”31 This reflected in the 1920s–1930s in an increasing use of the adjective ijtimāʿī (social) to describe the work of the many associations active on the ground, whereas the term khayrī (charitable) had dominated the associational field earlier.32 Home mission and social reformism, even if advocated and practiced by different groups, tended to find a common ground around the necessity of “civilising” poor Egyptians and of reforming society. This was often a conscious effort to redeploy religion by adopting new ideas and outreach methods to meet the objective of reaching as many people as possible.

2 Interreligious Competition and Progressive Indigenisation

After WWII, social services expanded considerably. The economic crisis in the 1930s had generated widespread poverty and the will to alleviate the fate of the poorest developed in different layers of Egyptian society, from the “middle classes” to the well-off. A Ministry of Social Affairs was created in 1939, the goal of which was to take control of the large associational field which had emerged in previous decades.33 An increasing number of women started to be active in the field of social welfare and religious education, though they often came from the upper classes of society as very few had access to education.34 The activities of these associations were frequently motivated by nationalist leanings and anti-British sentiments which were probably less developed among the Christians (who as a minority probably felt less comfortable mixing religion and politics), even if they shared the will to fight the immoral pleasures often associated with foreign influences.

Foreign Christian missionaries started to act beyond their traditional role (preaching, running schools, hospitals and orphanages) in a period when governmental pressure and control on their activities were increasing after several polemics had targeted foreign mission activities in the 1930s. To be able to pursue their activity in Egypt, Western missionaries had to renounce open proselytisation. They thus increasingly focused on developing services for the poor, particularly in the countryside, and their action encouraged local Christians and Muslims to launch their own social services and preaching activities. Even in Catholic and Evangelical missions, the most important initiatives were increasingly taken by Egyptians. Henry Ayrout is the best example of this novelty. A Jesuit with Levantine roots, he founded the Catholic Association for Schools in Egypt in 1940, which was first created to establish schools in Upper Egypt and later set up many development projects. On the Evangelical side, pastor Samuel Habib (1927–1997), launched in 1952 (in collaboration with American missionary Davida Finney), a literacy and development project in a village near Minya. The project expanded and was formalised and registered in 1960 under the name of the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services (CEOSS).35 The increasing involvement of Egyptians in social services in the 1950s–1960s was partly a reaction to and an emulation of the Western missionary models but it also intervened in a context of increasing state interventions in the field of education and healthcare. Leftist and nationalist movements were growing in importance and largely controlled university campuses. Home and foreign missions were strongly influenced by this context in which “development” had become a national priority.36

The afterwar period also saw a new generation of Copts use and adapt missionary models to modernise and revive what they viewed as the authentic Coptic tradition. Among them Saʿd ʿAzīz (Bishop Samuel from 1962 to 1981) was an ardent promotor of social service and organised groups of missionaries/social servants who became very active in touring the countryside, particularly the Delta where Copts where very few and thus isolated (and where the Muslim Brothers were very active). While he was still a student at Cairo University in Giza during the late 1950s, ʿAzīz had already been active in serving the surrounding villages, an initiative inspired by the “rural diaconate” launched by Būlus Būlus, a priest in the city of Damanhur in the Nile Delta.37 These itinerant missions were providing a mix of spiritual and social care.38 In the same period, a group of active nuns, inspired by the Catholic model and specialised in social service and education (the Banāt Maryam), was created in 1965 in Beni Suef (Middle Egypt) by Bishop Athanasius, one of the promotors of Coptic reform.39 Before the appearance of this order, the only option for women willing to integrate into the Coptic church’s clerical body consisted of becoming a contemplative nun. This first and only order of active nuns, the Banāt Maryam would later, in the 1970s, become involved in Sister Emmanuelle’s mission among Cairo’s garbage collectors and are still present today in three different neighbourhoods around Cairo.40

3 Christian and Muslim Revivals

The progressive reappropriation of missionary techniques also progressed in the field of religious preaching from the 1950s. Khalāṣ al-Nufūs was, for instance, pursuing its itinerant preaching, promoting a model of piety centred on the personal reading of the Bible and a born-again religiosity, involving the experience of an encounter with Jesus Christ. Faraḥāt Ibrahīm, the future Father Samʿān, was born in 1941 in Mit Yaʿīsh, a village close to the city of Mansura in the Nile Delta.41 He became a member of Khalāṣ al-Nufūs when the mission visited his village. In 1961, Faraḥāt was sent to Cairo to work in the association printing press in Shubra, a neighbourhood located in the north of Cairo. The association was mainly publishing and circulating translations of Western protestant authors. In Cairo, Samʿān became close to a Coptic priest called Zakariyyā Buṭrus who was running a parish in Heliopolis where he was attracting many believers drawn by the exorcisms he performed in public and his sermons inviting people to publicly repent.42 Buṭrus was himself from the Delta and had served in the rural diaconate ran by Father Būlus Būlus. In his ministry, he was an innovator, using new outreach techniques, such as circulating his sermons on cassettes like many Muslim sheikhs at that time.

Beyond these examples, that could be seen as exceptional cases, the situation of the Coptic Church progressively changed under Nasser (1954–1970), whose economic reforms marginalised the old Coptic elite which had been central in creating a sense of community since the nineteenth century, paving the way for middle-class reformists to impose their vision of religious reform. Most of those reform-minded faithful originated from the geographical margins of the institution. Samuel and Shenouda, two prominent figures of the Coptic church, are the best examples: they went to college in the 1940s, became monks in the 1950s, and joined the Church hierarchy in the 1960s, as general bishops in charge of thematic domains.43 Samuel was appointed bishop of social services and promoted social work in close cooperation with Catholics and Protestants, developing a kind of field ecumenism. Shenouda’s position was more “coptocentric,” i.e., centred on the Coptic tradition presented as the authentic Egyptian Christianity, contrary to the Catholic and Protestant Egyptian churches which were portrayed as an outcome of colonialism. As a bishop of clerical education, Shenouda was in a good position to spread his vision and to impose it after being chosen as the new pope in 1971. As patriarch, he undertook a strong centralisation of the Church and a “clericalisation”44 of the faithful under the supervision of a growing number of priests. Shenouda managed to take control of the various initiatives in the field of mission and social services, especially after Samuel’s death in 1981.45 Under his long patriarchate (1971–2012), the Coptic parish became an “organising point”46 for many Copts, providing social help, leisure, and plenty of other activities. The local church played the role of an alternative society where Copts could safely develop counternarratives nurtured by a vigorous reinvestment in and reinvention of their traditions. This movement translated in an impressive growth of religious literary production, which developed from the 1950s, leading to the publication of many religious booklets, particularly hagiographies. This abundant religious literature was proposing what Brigitte Voile called a new “intercession pedagogy” adapted to educated urban Copts and based on an individualised relationship to a specific saint of the repertory.47 This pedagogy would disseminate through the network of Sunday schools and the catechisms organised in every parish, and became a powerful tool of Coptic communalisation. When a church was founded in poor urban areas, the Sunday school teachers would come during the first years from other (and richer) neighbourhoods. This form of home mission was often accompanied by charitable activities.

In parallel, the public space Islamised, as militant groups became very active on different fronts. Their daʿwa (preaching) was more diverse than the Christian form, as it was not linked to a particular structured hierarchy. Some of the preachers had been educated at al-Azhar, while others were members of religious associations like the Muslim Brothers or ʿAnṣār al-Sunna (Salafi).48 Also, these groups could act openly in the public space whereas Copts had to take Muslim susceptibilities into consideration. One example of this Islamisation of public spaces, studied by Aaron Rock-Singer, is the activism around the ẓuhr (noon) prayer. The Islamic movement struggled to impose its performance right after the call to prayer, i.e. during working hours, while practicing Muslims had until then been granted considerable leeway to adapt the schedule to their occupations. This insistence on timely praying “reflected conceptions of temporal order popularized by the state-sponsored modernist project of temporal and spatial organization” and “derived not merely from its connection to the past or legal status but from its capacity to disrupt the temporal order of Egyptian educational and bureaucratic institutions”.49

As among the Copts, Islamic reform was led by a new generation of educated Muslims contesting the official institutions, particularly al-Azhar, and which developed its own vision of Islam, that is, like the Copts, a mix of individualisation and communalisation. Many of them had not followed a classical ulama cursus at al-Azhar and were autodidacts who graduated from faculties of engineering, medicine, or literature.50 This was happening in the context of Sadat’s infitāḥ (in the 1970s), the politics of economic liberalisation, during which the president largely tolerated and even encouraged the development of Islamist movements meant to counterbalance the influence of his leftist opponents.51

4 Urban Missions between Informality and the State

During the 1960s and 1970s, informal areas rapidly developed around Cairo as a result of massive population growth and, from the mid-1970s, of state disinvestment from social help and public housing. Rural migrants settled en masse in the city without being able to rent apartments on the official market. At the same time, many inhabitants of old neighbourhoods moved to these new settlements. Home missions increasingly targeted these new urban quarters in dire need of religious and social services. This focus on poor urban neighbourhoods was not new but it reached another scale with the acceleration of the urban sprawl. Many Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brothers, invested in this field and founded local branches, as well as other religious associations like the Gamʿiyya Sharʿiyya,52 and, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Gamaʿāt Islāmiyya (Islamic Associations) which also resorted to violence to impose their vision of society.53 Different Islamic groups established a solid base of support through their charity networks, a strategy which would show its efficiency during the first post-revolutionary elections in 2011. Many Islamic associations were founded from the 1970s to provide social services or daʿwa and often a mix of both. On some occasions, like the earthquake in 1992, Islamists clearly demonstrated their ability to react more efficiently than the Egyptian state apparatus in offering help to the victims. But the activism of Islamist groups and their discourses preaching public morality had also tangible consequences for everyday interactions. The spread of the Islamic veil is the most well-known and visible example which had also consequences for interreligious dynamics, as Christian women started being increasingly recognisable for not wearing the ḥijāb.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider the situation of informal settlements and the activity of religious associations as an autonomous process totally free from any state influence. Salwa Ismaïl has shown that the development process of informal neighbourhoods during the 1970s and 1980s “has given the communities a certain degree of autonomy from the government- the latter having been completely absent during the communities’ founding stages of planning and construction.”54 Aaron Rock-Singer is right when approaching Islamist movements’ history in connection to what he calls Statism, or “state-sponsored modernization.”55 Indeed, even though relations were often tense between Islamic associations and the regime, the state came to need intermediaries between the inhabitants of these informal areas and the administration—a role that was traditionally played by Sufi brotherhoods in the countryside.56 Islamists and even former members of the Gamaʿāt Islamiyya were co-opted by the National Democratic Party (the governmental party) in the second half of the 1990s to act as brokers with local communities.57 What is more, what Marie Vannetzel has called “politics of ‘goodness’ (khayr)”, i.e. local social services, involved a great variety of actors among whom were many clearly linked to the state. This social field relied on “a conflictual consensus built on entrenched welfare networks, and on an imaginary matrix mixing various discursive repertoires of state developmentalism and religious welfare.”58 On the ground many associations, clubs and clinics in which Muslim Brothers were very active also had members of the National Democratic Party in their midst. The “politics of goodness” was indeed a shared idiom which played a role comparable to that of reformism in the first half of the twentieth century.

The Coptic parishes also participated in these dynamics. Priests started to act as intermediaries between the state apparatuses and their flock.59 The parish played the same kind of role as Islamic associations and the influence on its members was probably even stronger, as few alternatives existed for Copts in need of support and feeling threatened by the ongoing Islamisation of society. As I already mentioned, Pope Shenouda centralised the Coptic Church, encouraging Copts to participate in the life of their church as deacons or servants (khādim) under the close supervision of priests. The strength of the parish resided in its relative independence vis-à-vis the state, which granted a large degree of autonomy to the pope in the management of Church affairs. This difference with the situation of Muslims was particularly clear as to the question of Church waqfs (religious foundations) which were run by the Communal Coptic Council led by Shenouda, while the Islamic waqfs were nationalised under Nasser and administered from then on by a dedicated Ministry.60 So, while the Muslim Brothers were obliged to act (semi)clandestinely, parishes could develop their activities without being scrutinised too closely by the security services. The pact between the pope and the president relied and still relies on the former’s loyalty to the regime, which doesn’t mean that priests did not intervene in local politics with a certain leeway, as we will see with the case of Father Samʿān.61

5 Father Samʿān’s Mission among the zabbālīn, between Development and Religious Reform

Father Samʿān is a good example of how these urban missions can be described as a transversal phenomenon linked to many crucial questions like social aid, state clientelism, class relations, religious communalisation, and relations with the West. Different social logics crossed paths in Muqaṭṭam, this iconic urban space founded in 1970 and which today comprises some 30,000 inhabitants.62 Different actors intervened in the community from the 1970s when the zabbālīn (garbage collectors in Arabic) settled on the Muqaṭṭam slopes. These actors justified their actions and collected funds by telling stories about this marginal community. They engaged with it in very different ways, but their actions had something in common: a strong will to encourage change among the zabbālīn. This change concerned their morality, their sense of hygiene, the way they work, or their relation to God, and often different combinations of these options. The narrative possibilities offered by the community’s way of living created many opportunities for missionaries and local specialists in the field of development to tell moving stories and build brilliant careers: French nun Sister Emmanuelle decided to share the zabbālīn’s life, Coptic women from the upper classes started NGO s, different types of charismatic missionaries from Egypt, Korea, or the United States launched faith-based development programs and (Christian) Egyptian engineers in charge of implementing World Bank policies in the field pioneered the development business in Egypt in the 1980s. Two prominent figures of development consulting in Egypt built their whole careers through their work with the zabbālīn. Mounir Neamettalla founded Environmental Quality International, a company that would oversee most development projects in Muqaṭṭam during the 1980s and 1990s, and Leila Iskander helped Father Samʿān to run his small school in the 1980s and later started being active in different NGO s in the neighbourhood, before creating her own consulting firm CID. Iskander became an important figure in the development scene in Cairo and was even appointed as minister for a few months after the 2013 coup.63

All the actors involved in Muqaṭṭam pursued different aims, but they shared the same idea that the community needed to be transformed, socially and/or spiritually. The religious actors working with the zabbālīn tended and still tend to describe them by strongly contrasting the situation before and after the religious mission. The garbage collectors were “ignorant people”—ignorant of their own religion and unable to behave in a “civilised” manner. They are described as unhygienic and as backward—their backwardness being referred to customs linked to their Upper Egyptian origins,64 such as vendetta and early marriages.65 Father Samʿān, who has served in Muqaṭṭam since 1974, is the best example and the main promotor of these kinds of discourses. He described the zabbālīn, when he met them in the 1970s, as drug addicts and alcoholics, and as ignorant of their own religion; in brief, as “nominal Christians.”66 Their presumed bad social habits, their many sins, and their lack of hygiene, composed a bleak picture of semi-savages in need of someone to bring them back to the right path. The priest described his first encounter with the garbage collectors in a 2010 TV interview with these words:

The neighbourhood was strange. The houses were all made of tin. It was hard with all this garbage; the smell was painful. There was no water nor electricity. People were living in tin shacks. People were poor, life was very hard.

—So, you have no Church?

—We have no Church.

—Do you pray?

—We don’t pray.

I found 200 persons around me. They told me, “we are present over 4 kilometres around”. […]

I told myself: I travelled 120 km to serve in Churches where there were people, Christians, and here at the heart of Cairo you don’t have a Church. They were smoking drugs; they were drinking alcohol. A bitter life. God was not present.67

If this apocalyptic tone is in great part determined by the message Samʿān wants to carry about his mission, the idea that poor Christians are ignorant of their own religion is widely shared among Coptic middle and upper classes.68 Yusriya Sawiris (the mother of Naguib Sawiris, one of the richest businessmen in the country), who ran an NGO in Muqaṭṭam for many years, expressed a similar idea regarding the zabbālīn’s state of ignorance, and praised Father Samʿān’s role in making “known God to many people who didn’t know Him. They were Christians with a cross on their wrist, but they only knew it was a blue mark.”69 Egyptian historian Magdi Guirguis offers another example of this vision in the foreword of a book dedicated to the history of Copts:

My family was living in Fayoum province […] in a big village surrounded by many small villages. I was young, religious, and I had the opportunity of preaching on numerous occasions in the years leading up to 1984. In that setting, I saw that Coptic villagers knew nothing about the basics of their religion. In most villages, if you asked a Copt to recite the Lord’s Prayer, he would start reciting the first chapter of the Qurʾān, just as Muslims do, believing it to be part of his own faith tradition.70

A story widely circulated among the Zabbālīn echoes Guirguis’ remarks and goes that before Samʿān’s mission, people were praying on mats, like Muslims. The priest describes the first years of his mission as a real struggle with recalcitrant Copts:

My service consisted mostly in serving souls, my work was all about visiting the households to bring people to church. It was dark when I entered, there was no light, and I couldn’t see anything. Thus, God told me, “take a flashlight with you”. I took it and I could then see where I was when entering the houses. When I got in, people would flee into the pigs’ enclosures;71 I tried to run after them, but my shoes would bog down, and I had to go out of the enclosure without my shoes. So, God told me to take boots with me and to slip my pants inside. Then I would run after them, use my flashlight and take them outside of the enclosure. That was for those who were running. Those who did not have time to run away and were sitting: I kiss his hand, he doesn’t stand up; I kneel to take out his shoe [in order to kiss his feet] … Under pressure, he stands up and comes with me.72

Samʿān has developed a self-hagiography made of stereotyped narratives on how he was sent by God to serve this community. He has recounted his own story on television, in religious books and in a movie based on his life among the garbage collectors.73 Without entering the details of this narrative, the main idea is that Samʿān was sent by God to convert the zabbālīn, like Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a comparison which makes explicit the idea of conversion.74 And indeed, Samʿān often explained that his mission changed Muqqaṭṭam’s inhabitants into “real Christians.”

Over the years the priest has become famous for building a huge complex of seven churches inside the Muqaṭṭam cliffs, which perfectly suited his charismatic religious style. This style was particularly visible in the performance of public exorcisms and weekly prayer meetings, as well as the huge intercession prayer meetings he organised with the Egyptian Evangelical Charismatics in the 2000s. But Samʿān also gained his reputation by playing the role of a community leader, as he acted as an intermediary with the many NGO s active among the zabbālīn since the 1980s. The absence of the state and of the Coptic church when he arrived in Muqaṭṭam granted Samʿān a great autonomy of action vis-à-vis both entities. He often played these different networks off against one another to increase his room for manoeuvre. Even if his charismatic style was regularly criticised as a protestant deviation from Coptic Orthodoxy by prominent church leaders, his social base and his fame protected him against all the attacks.

6 Samʿān’s Charismatic Preaching Style: A Religious Mediator

Christians and Muslims tried to inspire new models of religiosity and to moralise social behaviours. But the Copts had to develop their daʿwa within their communal spaces.75 This introvert Christianisation was controlled by a centralised institution, though this process did not eradicate internal pluralism. Samʿān, who integrated Khalāṣ al-Nufūs in the early 1960s, developed a “charismatic” style of preaching centred on repentance and exorcisms, which was not in line with the Coptic mainstream defined by Shenouda. Repentance and exorcism are strongly associated in both Oriental Christian traditions and in Charismatic Christianity, as they tend to assimilate sins to diseases and thus repentance to a form of healing.76 This vision was shared by some of the Evangelical missionaries who influenced Khalāṣ al-Nufūs, and priests like Zakariyya Buṭrus, Samʿān’s confessor. For example, Samʿān used to organise meetings centred on public testimonies of repentance in Muqaṭṭam during the 1980s. People would come on stage and tell how and when they had met Jesus. John Waters, Samʿān’s biographer, described those meetings in these words:

If someone did turn to the Lord, Father Simaan would organize a big celebration. This was called a ‘repentance party’. Since the government system of identity cards in Egypt fixes your religion from birth, you don’t say someone has become Christian’. Instead you say they have ‘come back to our Lord’ or ‘repented’. When someone repented Father Simaan would always have a brace of pigs killed and throw a party.77

This insistence on repentance has certainly been influenced by Evangelical missionaries but it was also an attitude widely shared among Muslims. The pious subjectivity described by Saba Mahmood, or the public conversions of famous actresses who decided to wear the veil in the 1990s, are examples of a larger process of individualisation through self-affirmation of religious choices.78 Claiming one’s religious subjectivity is indeed an important feature of religious modernisation that can be observed in many other contexts.79

Father Zakariyya Buṭrus’ influence on Samʿān was crucial. Buṭrus became a well-known preacher in the 1970s and 1980s. He organised weekly meetings in a charismatic style, valorising the expression of emotions and encouraging personal conversions. He also performed public exorcisms and was very active in converting and baptising Muslims. This attitude led him to a short stay in jail under Sadat and to his expulsion from Egypt in 1989. Many years later, he became a star of TV preaching through his talk show criticising Islam, broadcast on a satellite channel called al-Hayat.80 Buṭrus’ fame was enough to push Pope Shenouda to publish a series of articles to refute what he called “The heresy of the instantaneous salvation.”81 Samʿān was influenced by Father Zakariyya and further developed his own eschatological and millenarian views. For instance, he often tells his visitors that the zabbālīn are the perfect example of Egyptians on the road to redemption, as sinners and backward people having met Jesus. The garbage collectors, or at least their image, fully participate in Samʿān’s spiritual dispositif, and their “dirtiness, their sins and their impure profession,” as well as the changes they have lived spiritually and socially, perfectly symbolise the Holy Spirit’s power of salvation.

The zabbālīn’s priest organised several mega prayer meetings in his churches with Charismatic Evangelicals from Qasr al-Dubbārā Church in Cairo, themselves connected to American charismatic churches practicing “spiritual warfare,” which developed in the 1960s.82 In these circles, intercession prayers are perceived as a powerful instrument of territorial and spiritual conquest which even led Qasr al-Dubbārā’s members to claim that the 2011 revolution had been a direct result of their worship.83 These far-flung connections show how home missions increasingly articulated to transnational currents in recent decades.

7 Political and Social Mediations

When it comes to home missions, preaching, social service, and local politics are difficult to disentangle. Egypt is a society of mediations which are of different sorts but that are indispensable to run the country, especially in informal urban areas. Samʿān could not simply intercede with heavenly powers, he had to play the role of a community leader and to care for the social needs of Muqaṭṭam’s people if he wanted to succeed in the spiritual field. He created the first church and school in the neighbourhood and was soon joined during the 1980s by different actors linked to various kinds of religious missions and social reformist activities. Sister Emmanuelle from the Sœurs de Sion, formerly a teacher in the sisters’ school in Alexandria, settled in the early 1980s in Muqaṭṭam and together with Coptic nuns (the Banāt Maryam already mentioned) she created a school, a dispensary, and a youth club. She also provided the money (which she had gathered during her European tours and conferences) to found an association to be led by Christian women from the upper class, like Yousriya Sawiris, Mary Asaad and Leila Iskander. In addition, many development programs targeted the zabbālīn community as the place grew in fame. This created a particularly rich, and often conflictive, ecosystem of NGO s and religious organisations all claiming to speak in the zabbālīn’s name and all producing a range of discursive performances constructing an ambivalent vision of Muqaṭṭam and its residents, intended for various audiences. The narratives oscillated between extremely dark description of their conditions of living and social customs, and romanticised visions of their “ecological” practices or, for another public, their religious redemption. On the ground, those associations often competed for the same clientele and potential donors. Father Samʿān, who remained the most central and well-connected of these actors, able to play simultaneously in all fields (religion, politics, education, development), had to negotiate with the diverse types of reformism represented in the neighbourhood, which didn’t go without tensions.

Samʿān was also playing the intermediaries against the state, which had neglected informal areas for a long time but needed to connect with their population through local intermediaries when their inhabitants became electors when their abodes were officially recognised in the mid-1990s. Even in the neighbourhoods where many Islamist groups were active and sometimes openly hostile to the regime, the National Democratic Party (controlled by Mubarak) needed local brokers to integrate these areas into its networks. In Muqaṭṭam, the main intermediary has been Father Samʿān, who became the privileged interlocutor of the NDP. The priest had many links with the deputies elected in Manshiyyit Nāsir (the name of the larger neighbourhood) and with state officials. He was, for example, known to be close to Ibrahīm Sulaymān, a local MP for years and former Minister of Housing, who was imprisoned after the revolution. Sulaymān financed the road leading to the Muqaṭṭam churches and Father Samʿān, as a counterpart, supported the politician when he was running for re-election. The priest could even launch notables from the zabbālīn community in local council elections in collaboration with the NDP.

As we can thus see, Samʿān’s political, social, and religious roles were strongly linked to one another. Social services or charity were not just a way to fulfil a religious duty, they were also part of this clientelist system. They helped to create and preserve a religious and social base and to establish power and authority. The zabbālīn’s priest not only adapted to those circumstances, but also used the affordances offered by this environment to develop his spiritual project symbolised by the redemption of the garbage collectors. The variety of roles he endorsed, and his diverse connections, allowed him to preserve a broad margin of autonomy vis-à-vis a Church hierarchy rather hostile to his religious style.

The postrevolutionary elections held at the end of 2011 showed very neatly the centrality of social care: all the competitors distributed food supplies (particularly rice, oil, and sugar) and the “liberal” party Maṣriyyīn al-Aḥrār (Free Egyptians), founded by the rich Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris, promised to build a public school for girls in Muqaṭṭam if the zabbālīn voted the right way (which the party never did, even if most people probably voted for it).84 In reality, the 2011 revolution showed how the politics of goodness were rather unstable and related to people’s dependence on the providers more than to a relation of reciprocal trust. After the revolution, many associations and service providers were accused of corruption in Muqaṭṭam, a movement which even targeted Samʿān’s church and the priest’s role as the informal leader of the Garbage Collectors Association. This example shows how class relations, social service and local politics play an important role in building “religious” ties in the context of home missions. Religious actors do not act in a vacuum, they are anchored in the Egyptian context and their action regularly intersects with other social logics, especially when their mission institutionalises. It is thus no surprise that these actors were deeply touched by the crisis that destabilised the authorities in post-2011 Egypt. This shaking of social service networks was even one of the main reasons for the fall of the Muslim Brothers in 2013. As they focused too exclusively on the national political scene, they neglected their local networks—their home mission—and lost a great share of the support they had received during the post-revolutionary legislative elections held at the end of 2011 and at the beginning of 2012.85 Samʿān has also neglected (or has been unable to keep) contact with his base. His fame and his role as a community leader did not leave him much time to visit his flock as regularly as before, and when Tawādrūs II, the new pope since 2012, nominated a bishop responsible for the Muqaṭṭam zone in 2014—a clear affront to the priest’s authority—a great part of the zabbālīn took the side of the prelate. However, it is important to mention that the bishop had served in the 1990s as a Sunday school teacher in Muqaṭṭam, in a church ran by a priest in conflict with Samʿān—thus he had been part of a rival home mission and had the chance to build relationships with many inhabitants during his duty.

Conclusion

The poor have occupied a central place in the narratives of self-justification of many actors with a reformist agenda as the example of Muqaṭṭam shows particularly well. Home missions often presented themselves as essential to fulfil the material and spiritual needs of underprivileged Egyptians. With their “deviant” religious and social habits they were and are still perceived as a threat to the project of edifying a pious and at the same time modern society. Julia Elyachar, discussing the work of Saba Mahmood, and its focus on the role of the secular/religious divide, rightly underlined that:

among lower-middle-class members of piety and Islamist movements, the background against which pious bodily practices are cultivated is, more often, that of the shaʿab [people, popular]. Embodied practices of the shaʿab are the important modality of ‘collective action through which embodied attachments to historically specific forms of belonging’ have been forged in Cairo.86 It is against the background of those embodied practices that new kinds of embodied attachments are forged in turn.87

In other words, religious reformism and revivals—the diverse endeavours that were undertaken over the past 100 years to develop a certain kind of pious subjects and society—are mainly driven by a will to distinguish oneself from the “popular” and “backward” behaviours of the poor. It is precisely for this reason that home missions have occupied a central place in Egyptian recent history. After the revolution of 2011, for example, and the first legislative elections where the Islamists secured the majority of seats in parliament, some voices suggested disenfranchising the uneducated who were perceived as a threat to the country as they were seen as blindly obeying their religious (Islamist) leaders.88 Social classes are hard to define clearly in Egypt, particularly “the middle class” whose members always feel threatened in their status, as was the case with the effendis. This is probably why relations to those poorer than oneself is so central in the Egyptian social fabric: self-affirmation of one’s role in such a fragmented society always represents a kind of ordeal.

That is why, I argue, a connected and comparative approach is necessary to unpack the overall dynamics of home missions. To fully grasp their history, scholars need to connect the different layers of missionary activities. For example, religious preaching touches, of course, on the domain of religious practices and the cultivation of pious selves, but it also generates social domination, indirectly nurturing political and social clientelisms. Those links are probably contextual, but they play a great role in shaping social and religious dynamics. Religious discourses also have an important influence on the way society deals with the question of religious plurality that shouldn’t be hidden by general considerations about the role of Western imperialism. That is why I suggest reconnecting the study of these different spheres and religious groups, to better articulate the study of social practices and social imaginaries. The type of comparatist approach I have suggested here is still limited to one country but might well be extended to transnational perspectives.

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Figure 7.1

Neighbourhood: A view of the garbage collectors’ neighbourhood, Natalia Duque

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Figure 7.2

Prayer meeting organised with the Egyptian Evangelicals in Saint Samʿān church in 2012, Natalia Duque

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Figure 7.3

Soeur Emmanuelle. Gaétan du Roy, Paris 2021

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Figure 7.4

St. Marc: Saint Marc Hall, part of the Saint Samʿān Monastery, Natalia Duque

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Figure 7.5

Saint Samʿān church, part of the Saint Samʿān Monastery, Natalia Duque

1

Marloes Janson, Birgit Meyer, “Introduction: Towards a Framework for the Study of Christian-Muslim Encounters in Africa,” Africa, 86, no. 4 (2016): 615–619. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 834441 Global Orthodoxy).

2

Among others: Bat Yeʾôr, Le dhimmi: profil de l’opprimé en Orient et en Afrique du Nord depuis la conquête arabe (Saint-Victor-de-Morestel: Les Provinciales, 2017); Annie Laurent, Les chrétiens d’orient vont-ils disparaître? une vocation pour toujours, 3rd ed. (Paris: Salvator, 2017).

3

A good example is Saba Mahmood, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). She mentions on some occasions Islamist or Salafi anti-Christian positions or actions but they appear as a minor factor of explanation compared to the role of secularism.

4

Is Islamism a kind of civilisational “disease” or a new resistance language? Is Islamism still developing or declining? Is it an invented tradition or deeply rooted in a “discursive tradition” (Talal Asad, https://jstor.org/stable/20685738#metadata_info_tab_contents).

5

Joel Beinin and Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen have formulated this same critique from a different perspective. Joel Beinin, “Political Islam and the new Global Economy: The Political Economy of an Egyptian Social Movement,” CR: The New Centennial Review, 5, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 111–139; Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, “ ‘À la poursuite de la réforme’: renouveaux et débats historiographiques de l’histoire religieuse et intellectuelle de l’islam, XVeXXIe siècle,” Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, no. 2 (2018): 317–358. See for example the work of Giedre Šabaseviciute on Saïd Qutb which inscribes his life and action in Egyptian social history, Sayyid Qutb: An Intellectual Biography (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2021).

6

These comparisons exist but mostly in studies about Copts, see for example: Sebastian Elsässer, The Coptic Question in the Mubarak Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). The notable exception is the work of Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen who is originally a scholar of Sufism: Pèlerinages d’Égypte. Histoire de la piété copte et musulmane. XVeXXe siècles (Paris: Éditions de l’École de Hautes études en sciences sociales, 2005).

7

Bard Helge Kartveit, “Being a Coptic Man: Masculinity, Class, and Social Change among Egyptian Copts,” Men and Masculinities, 23, no. 3–4 (2020): 516–541.

8

For other examples of home missions in Western contexts, see for example Mark R. Teasdale, Methodist Evangelism, American Salvation. The Home Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1860–1920 (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2014); Yves-Marie Hilaire, “Les missions intérieures face à la déchristianisation pendant la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle dans la région du Nord,” Revue du Nord, 46, no. 180 (1964): 51–68, https://doi.org/10.3406/rnord.1964.2487. Here I focus on Christians and Muslims and do not examine the situation of Jewish people and institutions, although these should be part of a complete religious history of the period. In this chapter, I use home missions, internal mission and local mission as synonymous.

9

Sanjay Subramanyam, Faut-il universaliser l’histoire? Entre dérives nationalistes et identitaires (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2020); Caroline Douki, Philippe Minards, “Histoire globale, histoire connectée: un changement d’échelle historiographique?,” Revue d’histoire moderne & contemporaine, 54, no. 4 (2007); Karène Sanchez Summerer and Konstantinos Papastathis, “A Connected History of Eastern Christianity in Syria and Palestine and European Cultural Diplomacy (1860–1948),” Contemporary Levant, 6, no. 1 (January 2, 2021): 1–8, https://doi.org/10.1080/20581831.2021.1898122.

10

Alain Roussillon, “Trajectoires réformistes. Sayyid Qutb et Sayyid ʿUways: figures modernes de l’intellectuel en Égypte,” Égypte/Monde Arabe, 6 (1991): 2–3. This approach of reformism is discussed in three recent articles from a journal issue dedicated to Roussillon’s work: Ghislaine Alleaume, “Les voyages d’un paradigme: la réforme et ses usages (Égypte, XIXe et XXe siècles)”; Christian Topalov, “Réforme, science et politique: points de vue croisés sur les conditions morales de la domination”; Dyala Hamzah, “Production des classes moyennes et émergence du ‘social’ pendant la Nahda: Et le confessionnel (tāʾifiyya) dans tout cela?,” Égypte/Monde Arabe, 20, no. 2 (2020). The vision of the poor and of their religious practices is analysed in detail in Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen’s history of the Muslim and Coptic pilgrimages, Pèlerinages, 301–379.

11

Gaétan du Roy, Les Zabbalin Du Muqattam. Ethnohistoire d’une Hétérotopie au Caire (979–2021) (Leiden: Brill, 2022).

12

Mine Ener, Managing Egypt’s Poor and the Politics of Benevolence, 1800–1952 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).

13

See for example: Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, “Religieuses, laïques et travail social en Haute-Égypte: l’émergence de la question féminine à l’âge nationaliste (années 1940–1970),” Social Sciences and Missions, 34, no. 1–2 (May 11, 2021): 29–61, https://doi.org/10.1163/18748945-bja10024; Annalaura Turiano, “Masculinity, Industrial Education and Fascism in Egypt: Gender Construction in the Salesian Missionary Schools (1900–1939),” Social Sciences and Missions, 34, no. 1–2 (May 11, 2021): 125–157, https://doi.org/10.1163/18748945-bja10020.

14

Paul Sedra, From Mission to Modernity: Evangelicals, Reformers and Education in Nineteenth Century Egypt (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011); Heather Sharkey, American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).

15

Vivian Ibrahim, The Copts of Egypt: The Challenges of Modernisation and Identity, Paperback edition (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013).

16

Lisa Pollard, “Egyptian by Association: Charitable States and Service Societies, Circa 1850–1945,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 46, no. 2 (May 2014): 242, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020743814000099.

17

Lucie Ryzova, The Age of the Efendiyya: Passages to Modernity in National-Colonial Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 238.

18

Lucie Ryzova, “Egyptianizing Modernity through the ‘New Effendiya’,” in Re-Envisioning Egypt. 1919–1952, ed. Arthur Glodschmidt, Amy J. Jonson, Barak A. Salmoni (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2005), 133.

19

Ryzova, “Egyptianizing,” 126.

20

Aaron Rock-Singer, Practicing Islam in Egypt: Print Media and Islamic Revival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2019), 11.

21

Elsässer, The Coptic, 43.

22

See Gaétan du Roy, Le prêtre des chiffonniers ou la construction d’une identité religieuse au Caire entre charisme, tradition et clientélisme (1974–2014) (Louvain-la-Neuve: PhD Thesis, 2014); Heather Sharkey, American Evangelicals in Egypt. Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

23

Thirty years later, this group would reach the village of the future Father Samʿān in the Nile Delta.

24

Beth Baron, The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014), chapter 5, Epub.

25

René Girard, La violence et le sacré (Paris: Grasset, 1972).

26

The YMCA is a protestant association initially designed to help young workers in London in 1844 which later spread worldwide. The Egyptian branch originated in activities launched by the American College in Assiut from 1909 which finally led to the foundation of the Egyptian branch in 1923.

27

See Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, “Les débuts d’une revue néo-salafiste: Muhibb al-Dîn al-Khatîb et Al-Fath de 1926 à 1928,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 95–98 (avril 2002): 227–255.

28

Umar Ryad, Islamic Reformism and Christianity: A Critical Reading of the Works of Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā and His Associates (1898–1935) (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 176–180, https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004179110.i-390. For an example of Muslims borrowing Christian missionary methods in Ottoman Jordan, see Eugene Rogan, “Missionary Rivalries in Ottoman Transjordan at the Turn of the 20th Century,” in Antonin Jaussen, Sciences Sociales Occidentales et Patrimoine Arabe, ed. Géraldine Chatelard and Mohammed Tarawneh (Beyrouth: Presses de l’Ifpo, 2014), 37–49 http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/5317.

29

Gregory Starett, Putting Islam to Work. Education, Politics and Religious Transformation in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

30

Nadine Picaudou, L’islam entre religion et idéologie. Essai sur la modernité musulmane (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 86; Sharkey, American.

31

Starett, Putting Islam, 62.

32

Pollard, “Egyptian by Association,” 246.

33

This came out of Prime Minister ʿAlī Mahir and King Faruq’s initiative with the clear intention of limiting parties’ influence as many of them had established ties with associations and relied on them to constitute their electoral base. Cutting these ties and retaking control of social work was thus a concrete way of reasserting the political role of the king. Pollard, “Egyptian by Association”; Alain Roussillon, “Réforme sociale et politique en Égypte au tournant des années 1940,” Égypte/Monde arabe, no. 18–19 (September 30, 1994): 197–236, https://doi.org/10.4000/ema.105. We could draw a parallel with the ongoing repression against Muslims Brotherhood social networks.

34

Annalaura Turiano, “Une société de bienfaisance féminine en Égypte. Tahsîn al-Sihha et la lutte contre la tuberculose (1930–1970),” in Les mondes de la bien-faisance. Les pratiques du bien au prisme des sciences sociales, ed. Laura Ruiz De Elvira, Sahar Aurore Saeidnia (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2021), 327–350; Beth Baron, “An Islamic Activist in Interwar Egypt,” in Women, Philanthropy and Civil Society, ed. Kathleen D. McCarthy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 225–244; Beth Baron, “Women’s Voluntary Social Welfare Organizations in Egypt,” Gender, Religion and Change in the Middle East. Two Hundred Years of History, ed. Inger Marie Okkenhaug, Ingvild Flaskerud (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 85–102; Mayeur-Jaouen, “Religieuses, laïques et travail social en Haute-Égypte.”

35

See Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, Voyage en Haute-Égypte. Prêtres, coptes et catholiques (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2019), 111–127; Sharkey, American, 191–198.

36

Mayeur-Jaouen, “Religieuses, laïques et travail social en Haute-Égypte.”

37

Elsässer, The Coptic, 47.

38

Their primary goal was to reach Copts who did not have access to religious services. They used portable altars to celebrate religious ceremonies in villages. Social care arose because the people encountered were very poor and needed to be helped materially.

39

Since the foundation of the Sunday School movement in 1918, educated lay people started to develop ideas of reforming the Coptic church. Those reformers slowly infiltrated the institution by first becoming monks and later bishops under the patriarchate of Kirillus VI (1959–1971). The main figures of this movement were Samuel, Shenouda (the future pope), and Matta al-Maskīn.

40

Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Contemporary Coptic Nuns (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995).

41

His biography was written by an Anglican missionary: John Waters, Moving Mountains (London: Triangle, 1999).

42

See his biography: Stuart Robinson and Peter Botross, Defying Death. Zakaria Botross. Apostle to Islam (Upper Mt Gravatt: City Harvest Publications, 2008).

43

The title of general bishop was specifically created by Kirillus VI to integrate these reformists to the church.

44

Dina El Khawaga, “The Laity at the Heart of the Coptic Clerical Reform,” in Between Desert and City: The Coptic Orthodox Church Today, ed. Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Kari Vogt (Oslo: Novus Forlag, 1997), 142–166.

45

He died in the same attack as President Sadat.

46

Elizabeth Oram, Constructing Modern Copts: The Production of Coptic Christian Identity in Contemporary Egypt (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2004), 142.

47

Brigitte Voile, Les coptes d’Égypte sous Nasser. Sainteté, miracles, apparitions (Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 2004).

48

There were many attempts to professionalise the formation of Islamic preachers, starting at the beginning of the twentieth century with a project led by famous religious reformist Muhammad Abdu. The state took control of al-Azhar, the venerable mosque/university founded in the tenth century, under Nasser and turned it into a modern university adding modern courses like medicine and engineering. The ulama became state functionaries and their professionalisation reached a new level in 1977 when an institution was created inside al-Azhar to train preachers (kuliyyat al-daʿwa al-islāmiyya, The College for Islamic Preaching). However, these preachers formed by the Islamic University and later paid by the state did not represent the majority of mosques which were private and loosely controlled by the regime. Patrick D. Gaffney, “The Changing Voices of Islam: The Emergence of Professional Preachers in Contemporary Egypt,” The Muslim World, 81, no. 1 (1991): 27–47, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.1991.tb03510.x.

49

Aaron Rock-Singer, “The Sunni Islamic Revival,” in Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East, by Aaron Rock-Singer, ed. Armando Salvatore, Sari Hanafi, and Kieko Obuse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 8, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190087470.013.11.

50

Genevieve Abdo, No God but God. Egypt and the Triumph of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Malika Zeghal, Gardiens de l’islam. Les ulamas d’Al Azhar dans l’Égypte contemporaine (Paris: Presses de sciences Po, 1996).

51

See Naïma Bouras’ chapter in the volume.

52

Sarah Ben Néfissa, “Citoyenneté morale en Égypte. Une association entre État et Frères musulmans,” in ONG et gouvernance dans le monde arabe, ed. Sarah Ben Néfissa, Nabil Abd Al-Fatah, Sari Hanafi, Carlos Milani (Cairo/Paris: Karthala/CEDEJ, 2004), 147–179.

53

Patrick Haenni, L’ordre des Caïds. Conjurer la dissidence urbaine au Caire (Cairo/Paris: CEDEJ/Karthala, 2005).

54

Salwa Ismaïl, “The Popular Movement Dimensions of Contemporary Militant Islamism: Socio-Spatial Determinants in the Cairo Urban Setting,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 42, no. 2 (April 2000): 374.

55

Aaron Rock-Singer, Practicing Islam in Egypt: Print Media and Islamic Revival, 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 16, https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108590877.

56

Edward B. Reeves, The Hidden Government: Ritual, Clientelism, and Legitimation in Northern Egypt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990).

57

Haenni, L’ordre.

58

Marie Vannetzel, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Virtuous Society’ and State Developmentalism in Egypt: The Politics of ‘Goodness,’ ” in Development as a Battlefield, ed. Irene Bono, Béatrice Hibou (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 220–244, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004349551_010.

59

To my knowledge my PhD dissertation is the only research addressing the political role of the parish and its priest. Gaétan du Roy, Le prêtre.

60

Elsässer, The Coptic; Zeghal, Gardiens.

61

Elsässer, The Copts; Paul Rowe, “Neo-millet Systems and Transnational Religious Movements: The Humayun Decrees and Church Construction in Egypt,” Journal of Church and State, 49, no. 2 (Spring 2007); Paul Sedra, “Class Cleavages and Ethnic Conflict: Coptic Christian Communities in Modern Egyptian Politics,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 10, no. 2 (July 1999).

62

The neighbourhood had a population of 8,500 in 1986 and around 24,000 in 2001.

63

She was first Minister of Environmental Affairs and then of Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements.

64

The vast majority come from Dayr Tasa, a village near Assiut. With the population growth the origin of the inhabitants is probably more mixed and not all of them are zabbālīn. Many workers employed by the inhabitants still come from Upper Egypt and go back to their villages for the harvest period.

65

On prejudices against Upper Egyptians see, Catherine Miller, “Between Myth and Reality: The Construction of a Saʿidi Identity in Cairo,” in Upper Egypt. Identity and Change, ed. Nicholas Hopkins, Reem Saad (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2004), 25–54.

66

This typical Evangelical expression is used by the priest in Arabic, “Masihiyyīn isman”.

67

Misr Innahārda (Egypt today), TV show on Canal 2 (public television), December 2010. This discourse being part of Samʿān’s self-hagiography, it is hard to trace its evolutions. It is strongly stereotyped, and the priest tends to repeat it in very similar ways in different contexts.

68

The homology between sins and the lack of hygiene is a classic theme of Christian missionary discourses, see Samir Boulos, “ ‘A Clean Heart Likes Clean Clothes’: Cleanliness Customs and Conversion in Egypt (1900–1956),” Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, 21, no. 4 (October 2010): 315–330, https://doi.org/10.1080/09596410.2010.529661.

69

Interview with Yousriyya Sawiris, April 2008. She is the spouse of Onsi Sawiris (born in 1930), the founder of one of the biggest Egyptian business groups, today ran by her three sons, Naguib, Nassef and Sameh.

70

Magdi Guirguis, Nelly van Doorn-Harder, The Emergence of the Modern Coptic Papacy (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011), 5–6.

71

The Zabbalīn raise pigs which they feed with the organic waste collected.

72

Insān ʿādī (An Ordinary Person), a talk-show on the Arab Christian satellite channel, Sat 7, 2009.

73

For example, insān ʿādī, Sat 7, 2009, en ligne sur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4axPuaUSXE, consulted 27 May 2013. His self-hagiography appears on the booklet about his eponymous saint to whom his churches are dedicated: Anonymous, sīrat al qiddīs samʿān al kharrāz al dabbāgh’ (Saint Samʿān the Shoemaker, the Tanner), 7e éd. (Cairo, Saint-Samʿān church, 2010 [1993]). The Movie about Samʿān’s life is called Heavenly message from the storm, by Ibrahim Abdel Sayed, Agape Media Center, 2007.

74

This narrative is for example present in the hagiography of the saint whose name, Samʿān, he took when he became a priest. See Gaétan du Roy, “Abuna Samʿān. Un prêtre bâtisseur en Égypte,” Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 171 (July–September 2015).

75

On Copts and alcohol see, Mina Ibrahim, “A Minority at the Bar: Revisiting the Coptic Christian (in-)Visibility,” Social Compass, 66, no. 3 (September 2019): 366–382, https://doi.org/10.1177/0037768619856296.

76

Bernard Heyberger, “Morale et confession chez les Melkites d’Alep d’après une liste de péchés (fin XVIIe s.),” in L’Orient chrétien dans l’empire musulman. Hommage à Gérard Troupeau, ed. Marie-Thérèse Urvoy, Geneviève Gobillot (Versailles: Éditions de Paris, 2005), 285; Thomas J. Csordas, “Catholic Charismatic Healing in Global Perspective: The Cases of India, Brazil, and Nigeria,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, ed. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 332–347.

77

John Waters, Moving, 59.

78

Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety. The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Karin Van Nieuwkerk, Performing Piety Singers and Actors in Egypt’s Islamic Revival (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

79

Danièle Hervieu-Léger, “Le partage du croire religieux dans des sociétés d’individus,” L’Année sociologique 60, no. 1 (2010).

80

The Show was called Questions concerning God. It started in 2003 and ended in 2010.

81

Pope Shenouda, Bidaʿ al-khalāṣ fī laḥẓa, 6th ed. (Cairo: Anba Ruways, 2006).

82

This aspect is developed in Gaétan du Roy, “ ‘Bénie soit l’Égypte’. Prier pour la nation dans l’espace public révolutionnaire,” Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 181 (January–March 2018), 141–159.

83

Anna Jeannine Dowell, “The Church in the Square. Negotiations of Religion and Revolution at an Evangelical Church in Cairo,” Cairo Papers in Social Sciences, 33, no. 3 (Fall 2010).

84

Fieldwork, December 2011.

85

Marie Vannetzel, “Confronting the Transition to Legality,” in Egypt’s Revolutions. Politics, Religion and Social Movements (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 220–244.

86

Mahmood, Politics, 194 (quoted by Elyachar, see next note).

87

Julia Elyachar, “The political economy of movement and gesture in Cairo,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17, no. 1 (2011): 89.

88

Gaétan du Roy and Clément Steuer, “Les obstacles à l’émergence de la citoyenneté dans l’Égypte post-révolutionnaire,” Recherches Sociologiques et Anthropologiques, 46, no. 1 (October 15, 2015): 49–66, https://doi.org/10.4000/rsa.1374.

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Missions and Preaching

Connected and decompartmentalised perspectives from the Middle East and North Africa (19th-21st century)

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