Kuttab 1925

The principal focus of my research is the social and cultural history of the modern Middle East. In my first book, I examined the connections between education and the rise of the modern state in nineteenth-century Egypt. To this end, my work chronicled moments of contestation as to both the methods and the purposes of education — contestation between Anglican and Presbyterian missionaries, Ottoman and Egyptian officials, Coptic priests and Muslim reformers.

I am currently completing a second book, tentatively entitled A History of the Coptic Community in Modern Egypt. This book urges a reconceptualization of the ways in which modern Coptic history is written – a shift away from the elitist focus in the existing historiography on lay ‘reformers’ and Church leaders. In particular, the book traces how, in recent decades, the Coptic Church has become more insular and dependent upon the Egyptian state than ever before, and inadvertently promoted the very sectarianism that Coptic leaders claim to disdain.

In a different vein, given a longstanding interest in the popular culture of the Nasser era, I am undertaking both teaching and research in the history of Egyptian cinema — specifically, the film culture of the 1950s and 1960s. I am particularly interested in exploring the images of village poverty, colonial violence, family discord, and the subjugation of women that pervade such films. My research considers the links between these images and such state priorities as eradicating ‘backwardness’ and ‘superstition,’ pacifying the ‘social body,’ and consolidating ‘modern’ forms of subjectivity — among them, the companionate spouse, the productive worker, and the patriotic citizen.

Flyer May 4-Recovered


[Google Scholar page, Academia.edu page, and SFU Summit Repository page]

Abstract: The sparse scholarship on the political role of Coptic Christians in modern Egypt almost always takes the Coptic Orthodox Church as a point of departure, assuming that the head of the church, the Coptic patriarch, is not only the spiritual leader of the community but its political leader as well. This article argues that the disproportionate attention afforded to the Coptic Orthodox Church in this scholarship has obscured intra-communal dynamics of the Copts that are essential to an understanding of their political role. Through an analysis of historical struggles between the Coptic clergy and the Coptic laity for influence in Egyptian politics, as well as a particular focus on how these struggles have played out in the arena of personal status law, the article demonstrates that Egyptian politics and Coptic communal dynamics are deeply intertwined, to a degree often disregarded both by Copts and by Egypt analysts.


Abstract: Through a close analysis of the links between nineteenth-century Protestant missionary thought and the British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) this article suggests that to distinguish Enlightenment educational and social reform from evangelism is mistaken. Emblematic of the social reform projects which emerged in England as responses to the challenges of the French Revolution and rapid urbanisation, the BFSS was the outgrowth of Joseph Lancaster’s efforts at spreading the method of education he pioneered, the monitorial system, throughout the British Isles and, ultimately, the world. Despite the strong association between the BFSS and various utilitarian thinkers, evangelicals of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century England came to view the Society and the monitorial system as means by which to integrate all the peoples of the world into the Lord’s dominion. Becoming part of that dominion entailed subjecting oneself to constant moral scrutiny, and monitorial schools were regarded as a means by which to ensure such self-examination. In short, missionaries seized upon monitorial schools because their aims were parallel to those of educational reformers in the metropole. Where home reformers aimed at the normalisation of the body of English political subjects, the development of the English social body, missionary reformers aimed at the normalisation of the body of God’s children.

Abstract: Scholars of Egyptian history and politics face a dearth of analytical studies of the modern Coptic Church and community. This state of affairs is due to various factors of a methodological, theoretical, and practical nature. In practical terms, both the Egyptian state and the Coptic Orthodox Church have discouraged exploration of Coptic identity given the political taboo of sectarianism. In theoretical terms, Edward Said’s Orientalism led to concerns among scholars about overemphasizing faith in their analyses of Middle Eastern history and politics. In methodological terms, modern Coptic historiography remains hobbled by an ‘enlightenment paradigm’ which discounts the political potential and action of subaltern and clerical forces within the community. This article urges a concern with the ways in which these subaltern and clerical forces shaped the Coptic ‘discursive tradition’ in the course of the twentieth century, as a means by which to restore Copts to modern Egyptian historiography, not as victims or symbols, but as actors in their own right.

Abstract: The English Church Missionary Society (CMS) dispatched a contingent of missionaries to Egypt in 1825. This article analyses the methods and impact of that contingent. The schools that the CMS missionaries introduced are cast not as vehicles of enlightenment — as is frequently the case in mission historiography — but as technologies of power. Specifically, the article recounts how the head of the mission, the Reverend John Lieder, deployed Lancaster schools among the Coptic Christians of Cairo to effect not merely a spiritual, but further, a cultural conversion of this Orthodox community. Lieder, his predecessors, and his contemporaries in the Mediterranean field sought to instil in the Copts the “evangelical ethos” of industry, discipline, and order. The article links this CMS project of cultural conversion to the process of state-building in Egypt. Indeed, Lieder was a pioneer purveyor of technologies of power that would prove indispensable to late-nineteenth-century elites in their efforts to produce, in the subaltern strata of Egyptian society, industrious and disciplined political subjects resigned to their lowly positions in the Egyptian social order.

Abstract: Whereas the political claims of Egyptian Islamists have attracted much attention in Western media and scholarly circles, only rarely have such circles acknowledged the role played by ethno-religious consciousness among Coptic Christians in Egyptian political life. This article analyzes the development of this consciousness through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as the socio-economic roots of ‘Coptist’ political action. Accorded particular attention is the emergence of an explicitly sectarian political discourse among groups of middle-class Copts in the 1970s, and the related spread of ethnic consciousness through the Coptic community at large since that time.


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  • “Has Citizenship Got a Future in Post-Revolutionary Egypt?” Egyptian Revolution Working Group, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, April 4, 2013.
  • “The Multiple Meanings of ‘Aqbat al-Mahgar’: Diaspora Copts as Signifier in Egyptian Politics,” First Annual Symposium in Arab Canadian Studies, Arab Canadian Studies Research Group, University of Ottawa, Canada, February 15-16, 2013.
  • “Copts and the Millet Partnership: The Intra-Communal Dynamics Behind Egyptian Sectarianism,” International Symposium on ‘Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices in the Middle East and North Africa,’ Henry Luce Foundation Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, Cairo, Egypt, January 9-10, 2013.
  • “From 1911 to 2011: Sectarian Conflicts in Comparative Perspective,” Fifth Annual Coptic Studies Symposium, University of Toronto, Canada, March 24, 2012.
  • “Death and the Modern: Projections of the City in 1950s Egypt,” Film Series on ‘Terror, Occupation, Partition: Making Meaning of Post/Colonial Violences,’ Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, March 21-23, 2012.
  • “Salafis, Sabotage, and Sectarianism: Religion in Egypt’s Transition to Democracy,” Invited Lecture, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, November 25, 2011.
  • “Revolution in Egypt: Sights, Sounds, Significance,” Invited Lecture, Portland State University, Portland, OR, May 23, 2011.
  • “Egyptian History Without ‘Egypt’? Privileging Pluralism in a Post-Revolution Pedagogy,” International Conference on ‘Teaching the Middle East After the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,’ George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, May 13-14, 2011.
  • “Salafis, Sabotage, and Sectarianism: Thoughts on Coptic Protest in Revolutionary Egypt,” International Workshop on ‘After Tahrir: Egypt’s Ongoing Social Transformation,’ Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, April 22, 2011.
  • “Bringing the Copts Back In: Why the Copts Are Essential to Understanding Modern Egyptian History,” International Conference on ‘The Future of Coptic Studies: Theories, Methods, Topics,’ Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, September 17-19, 2010.