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The Copts: 'Modern Sons of the Pharaohs'?

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This essay briefly reviews the Coptic identity constructions that can be subsumed as 'Pharaonism', and tries to assess them with reference to both ancient sources and modern developments. Broadly speaking, Pharaonism is a way of claiming a deeply rooted national identity that transcends the religious opposition between Egypt's Muslim majority and its indigenous Christian minority, the Copts. As a political ideology it was most successful in the period of the nationwide Egyptian struggle for independence in the early twentieth century, but its impact in particular among Coptic intellectuals is still great. In this essay, it is argued that Pharaonism is shaped in a remarkable degree by western Orientalism, and that its main historical tenets, such as the Copts' indebtedness to pre-Christian, Pharaonic culture or their anti-Greek nationalism, can no longer be maintained.

Affiliations: 1: Leiden University / Radboud University Nijmegen;, Email:


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