Public Christianity in Egypt: On the (In)Visibility of Copts

Taking Matthew Engelke’s recent notion of ‘ambient faith’ as a point of departure, Anthony Shenoda explores the ways in which some Coptic Christians in Egypt publicly confess their Christian faith in an Islamic public sphere.

Through such things as mobile phone ringtones, tattoos of crosses, icons of saints, miracles, and particular patterns of speech, many Copts subtly witness to Christ in public places. While this witness is only sometimes obvious to the Muslim other it is always obvious to those Copts, who are steeped in their Christian tradition. Importantly, then, this confession is not meant to bring the Muslim other under conviction, but to carve out a Christian presence in the Egyptian public sphere.

An added layer of complexity is that one’s confession of Christ in an Islamic public sphere is also a confession to oneself about the verity and power of Christian faith. Yet, because Christianity has for so long been relegated to the background of Egyptian public discourse, there are certain hazards that come with public expressions of Christianity, expressions that have largely been made possible by the ongoing revolution in Egypt. Importantly, the negotiation of Christianity in the Egyptian public sphere finds an analog and an impetus in a martyr tradition in Christianity which refuses to relegate Christian faith to a private sphere, instead insisting that it be manifest publicly.


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