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Communal Liberals and Religious Fascists: Coptic Christians Confront Illiberal Politics in 1940s Egypt
Weston Bland (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Penn)
THE INFLUENCE OF FASCISM ON EGYPTIAN POLITICS IN THE 1930S AND 1940S has been the subject of a long and controversial debate. WESTON BLAND moves beyond the scholarly fixation on influence by asking what it meant to use “fascist” as an invective in the context of World War II Egypt, considering in particular the deployment of “fascist” as a label to criticize Islamists by journalists in Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority community in the 1940s. He focuses on articles written by the Coptic journalist Salama Musa (1887-1958). Once an ardent secularist and even an admirer of Nazism, in the 1940s Musa advocated for the strengthening of Coptic communal institutions, both lay and religious, to counter the growing threat of illiberalism he identified in political Islam. Musa fostered a discourse that branded political Islam as “religious fascism,” offering an understanding of fascism as violent authoritarianism rooted in majoritarian dominance. Bland situates the writings of Salama Musa and other Copts on “religious fascism” as part of a broader Coptic reaction to the limitations and contradictions of Egypt’s “liberal era” (1923-1952). By investigating the intertwined Coptic discourses that promoted communal liberalism and warned of religious fascism, he highlights a minority approach to navigating the limitations of inclusion in a liberal system.