Accommodating Copts in Mubarak's Egypt : research design and historical review

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2012-05

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Several scholars have examined how Middle East states preserve their autocratic character. Some focus on competitive multi-party elections, which either “ease important forms of distributional conflict” (Blaydes 2011) or are pre-designed to favor incumbents (Levitsky and Way 2002; 2010). Others posit the existence of political parties, which regulate conflict and prevent elite defection (Brownlee 2007). Given the overthrow of a slew of governments during the Arab Spring, antecedent theories on authoritarian durability seem incomplete. Although prior explanations are not attenuated by recent state collapses, further research is required to explain the erstwhile success of Middle East authoritarianism. In particular, less attention is paid toward minority groups.

This research design is an inductive theory-building project that seeks to explain how states manage minority groups. I investigate Coptic Church history over three presidencies: Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-1970), Anwar Sadat (1970-1981), and Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011). Drawing from historical analyses, I argue that the Mubarak regime eased its relations with the Coptic Church as an accommodating bargain: if the church discouraged communal challenges against the state, the Mubarak regime would permit the Church to manage its cultural and religious affairs. The purpose of this research is to offer a guiding light on authoritarian regimes and minority groups.

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