“Coptic,” “Christian,” “Orthodox,” “Egyptian,” “American,” “North African”: All of these words describe my identity, some more than others. As a Coptic Orthodox Egyptian American woman, one word, “Arab,” is particularly problematic. Many Copts, including some of my dearest friends, vehemently deny the “Arab” label. The Copts, they say, are not Arabs, but descendents of the Pharaohs. Only Egyptian Muslims can call themselves Arab. The Egyptians who remained Christian after the Islamic invasion in the seventh century, the Copts, were not Arab. This idea was further reinforced when I read Leila Ahmed's memoir A Border Passage, and discovered that even some Egyptian aMuslims reject the Arab identity.
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