Reported by Waner Shao, Class of 2024.
The HRC Citizenship Lab hosted a Manuscript Workshop: Social Mechanisms of Sectarian Violence in Egypt, 1970-2020: Types and Patterns of Armed Aggression and Communal Clash with Professor Hyun Jeong Ha on August 1, 2022. The paper examined how political events, such as the Arab Spring, have affected sectarian relations, especially between Muslims and Christian, and focussed on Christian experiences of sectarian tensions and violence over the past 50 years.
Christians comprise about 10 % of the Egyptian population, with Sunni Muslims being the majority, in addition to very small numbers of diverse ethnic and religious groups. However, Christians have a longer history than Muslims in the land of Egypt, and Egypt was largely Christian before Islam entered the country. During the vast majority of Islamic rule, Muslim rulers were no more violent or discriminatory to non-Muslims than other rulers, becuse they recognized non-Muslim religions, particularly Christians and Jews, and protected them from external attacks, largely considering them as part of their people. The term “Dhimmi” refers to non-Muslim minorities under the Ottoman Empire, particularly Christians and Jews, who were recognized as citizens, but many scholars still consider them to be second-class citizens. These Christians and Jews had fewer rights than Muslims, and they had various social restrictions that varied over time. They had to pay extra taxes if they wanted to retain their religion. Today’s Egyptian Christians believe that they lack rights in their own country, and they have a strong identity that they are the indigenous people and true Egyptians, being the owners of the country.
Prof. Ha then introduced the two main sections of the chapter. The first offers a historical overview of sectarian violence from the 1970s, with the larger goal of demystifying sectarian violence in Egypt. People are exposed to media reports on sectarian violence in Egypt, whose major role is to reinforce Islamophobia because it focuses on Christians as victims while the context of the violence and attacks are largely missing. There are various dynamics before and during the attacks and offering a full picture can be helpful to understand sectarian violence in Egypt. These sectarian violent events are politically motivated, which is another larger goal related to the mystification of sectarian violence.
Prof. Ha analyzed 386 newspaper articles within the time frame of 1970-2020, and classified them into four types of violence: armed aggression, communal clashes, protests, and state aggression The latest data from 2015-2020 were collected by her undergraduate research assistants, funded by DKU’s Summer Research Scholars Program in the summer of 2022.
The Q&A session provided a further opportunity to learn more about the research. The audience asked questions regarding various aspects of the research, including its methods, coding, and analysis. We discussed the merits and challenges of using newspaper articles to study political violence, including how newspapers offer a unique possibility of studying political violence that took place in the past, while acknowledging some limitations of their coverage and potential reflection of particular political perspectives of the publishers. The dataset that Prof. Ha used included both national and international newspapers, and at provided information on small-scale and large-scale violence.
Other questions concerned the coding and analysis processes. Prof. Ha explained how she started to collect relevant newspaper articles using the dataset and inductively came up with the four major types of sectarian violence through a close reading of 386 articles by sorting out the violent events by similar patterns and motivations.
Questions also asked for more specification of Christians involved in the volent events in terms of their social class, and Prof. Ha answered by saying that newspaper articles do not necessarily offer these specifics. However, given that the majority of sectarian violence cases took place in Upper Egypt, a relatively isolated area neglected by the government, we could presume that violent events tend to happen in those areas, rather than in the centers of metropolitan cities, such as Cairo and Alexandria.
Please feel free to contact Professor Hyun Jeong Ha (firstname.lastname@example.org) for questions and comments on her research.