Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, Coptic Christians in Egypt have gradually become integrated as Egyptian citizens. Previous studies took for granted that the Copts developed their sense of belonging to the Egyptian nation-state. However, because the Copts’ cultural traits and historical views differ from those of the Muslim majority, it is important to analyze how the Copts constructed their Egyptian national identity.
This article provides insight on how the Copts reconstructed their group consciousness by using their cultural ties to ancient Egypt to develop their Egyptian national identity. Specifically, this article focuses on Coptic language revival at the turn of the twentieth century−a revival started by a Coptic language lecturer, Iqlawdiyūs Labīb, at the Coptic Seminary.
In his magazine, ʻAyn Shams, Labīb claimed that the Coptic language, the ecclesiastical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was the Egyptians' ethnic language because of its connections to the ancient Egyptian language. He also described Coptic as "the current Egyptian language," and called for its revival as a spoken language. By linking Coptic culture to ancient Egypt, Labīb positioned the Copts as culturally authentic Egyptians.
Although his attempt to revive the Coptic language did not succeed as a movement, it attached new meaning and position to Coptic religious culture. It is important to note that his attempts to revive the Coptic language led to a transvaluation of the ecclesiastical language as Egyptians' ethnic language and contributed to the Copts' construction of Egyptian national identity in a way that was different from mainstream secular Egyptian nationalist thought.