Christianity is the second largest religion in Egypt. Verifiable data available from Egyptian censuses and other large-scale nationwide surveys indicate that Christians presently constitute around 5% of the Egyptian population. Nevertheless, some media and other agencies, estimate the Christian population of Egypt to be between 10-15%. The higher estimates are sometimes based on figures provided by the churches themselves.[note 1] While a minority within Egypt, Egypt's Christian population is the largest in absolute numbers in the Middle East and North Africa. The history of Egyptian Christianity dates to the Roman era as Alexandria was an early center of Christianity.
The vast majority of Egyptian Christians are Copts. The word "Copt" is indirectly derived from the Greek Αἰγύπτιος Aigýptios meaning simply "Egyptian".
Over 92% of Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Church. The Coptic Church constitutes the largest Christian community in the Middle East and has approximately 10 million members, including a global diaspora of about 1 million. The Coptic Orthodox Church is headed by the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark, currently Pope Tawardos II. Affiliated sister churches are located in Armenia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Lebanon and Syria.
Other native Egyptian Christians are adherents of the Coptic Catholic Church, the Coptic Evangelical Church and various Coptic Protestant denominations. Non-native Christian communities are largely found in the urban regions of Alexandria and Cairo, and are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Latin Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Maronite Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, or the Syriac Orthodox Church. Scattered among the various churches are a number of believers in Christ from a Muslim background. A 2015 study estimates some 14,000 such believers in Egypt.
Christian Denominations in Egypt by number of adherents
By AD 300 it is clear[why?] that Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres. The Christian apologists Clement of Alexandria and Origen both lived part or all of their lives in that city, where they wrote, taught, and debated.
With the Edict of Milan in 313, Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians. Over the course of the 4th century, paganism was suppressed and lost its following, as the poet Palladas bitterly noted. Graffiti at Philae in Upper Egypt proves[why?] worship of Isis persisted at its temples into the 5th century.
Alexandria became the centre of the first great schism in the Christian world, between the Arians, named for the Alexandrian priest Arius, and their opponents[who?], represented by Athanasius, who became Archbishop of Alexandria in 326 after the First Council of Nicaea rejected Arius's views. The Arian controversy caused years of riots and rebellions throughout most of the 4th century. In the course of one of these, the great temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism, was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the Church.
Under Muslim rule, the ethnic Copts were cut off from the main stream of Christianity, and were compelled to adhere to the Pact of Umar covenant. They were assigned to Dhimmi status. Their position improved dramatically under the rule of Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century. He abolished the Jizya (a tax on non-Muslims) and allowed ethnic Copts to enroll in the army. Pope Cyril IV, 1854–61, reformed the church and encouraged broader Coptic participation in Egyptian affairs. Khedive Isma'il Pasha, in power 1863–79, further promoted the Copts. He appointed them judges to Egyptian courts and awarded them political rights and representation in government. They flourished in business affairs.
Some ethnic Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions. Two significant cultural achievements include the founding of the Coptic Museum in 1910 and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954. Some prominent Coptic thinkers from this period are Salama Moussa, Louis Awad and Secretary General of the Wafd Party Makram Ebeid.
In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser led some army officers in a coup d'état against King Farouk, which overthrew the Kingdom of Egypt and established a republic. Nasser's mainstream policy was pan-Arab nationalism and socialism. The ethnic Copts were severely affected by Nasser's nationalization policies, though they represented about 10–20% of the population. In addition, Nasser's pan-Arab policies undermined the Copts' strong attachment to and sense of identity about their Egyptian pre-Arab, and certainly non-Arab identity which resulted in permits to construct churches to be delayed along with Christian religious courts to be closed.
Many Coptic intellectuals hold to "Pharaonism," which states that Coptic culture is largely derived from pre-Christian, Pharaonic culture, and is not indebted to Greece. It gives the Copts a claim to a deep heritage in Egyptian history and culture. Pharaonism was widely held by Coptic scholars in the early 20th century. Most scholars today see Pharaonism as a late development shaped primarily by western Orientalism, and doubt its validity.
Persecution and discrimination
Religious freedom in Egypt is hampered to varying degrees by discriminatory and restrictive government policies. Coptic Christians, being the largest religious minority in Egypt, are also negatively affected. Copts have faced increasing marginalization after the 1952 coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Until recently, Christians were required to obtain presidential approval for even minor repairs in churches. Although the law was eased in 2005 by handing down the authority of approval to the governors, Copts continue to face many obstacles and restrictions in building new churches. These restrictions do not apply for building mosques.
In 2006, one person attacked three churches in Alexandria, killing one person and injuring 5–16. The attacker was not linked to any organisation and described as "psychologically disturbed" by the Ministry of Interior. In May 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported increasing waves of mob attacks by Muslims against ethnic Copts. Despite frantic calls for help, the police typically arrived after the violence was over. The police also coerced the Copts to accept "reconciliation" with their attackers to avoid prosecuting them, with no Muslims convicted for any of the attacks. In Marsa Matrouh, a Bedouin mob of 3,000 Muslims tried to attack the city's Coptic population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.
Members of U.S. Congress have expressed concern about "human trafficking" of Coptic women and girls who are victims of abductions, forced conversion to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriage to Muslim men.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is a Copt who served as Egypt's foreign minister under President Anwar Sadat. Today, only two Copts are on Egypt's governmental cabinet: Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali and Environment Minister Magued George. There is also currently one Coptic governor out of 25, that of the upper Egyptian governorate of Qena, and the first Coptic governor in a few decades. In addition, Naguib Sawiris, an extremely successful businessman and one of the world's 100 wealthiest people, is a Copt. In 2002, under the Mubarak government, Coptic Christmas (January 7) was recognized as an official holiday. However, many Copts continue to complain of being minimally represented in law enforcement, state security and public office, and of being discriminated against in the workforce on the basis of their religion. Most Copts do not support independence or separation movement from other Egyptians.
While freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, according to Human Rights Watch, "Egyptians are able to convert to Islam generally without difficulty, but Muslims who convert to Christianity face difficulties in getting new identity papers and some have been arrested for allegedly forging such documents." The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim. Public officials, being conservative themselves, intensify the complexity of the legal procedures required to recognize the religion change as required by law. Security agencies will sometimes claim that such conversions from Islam to Christianity (or occasionally vice versa) may stir social unrest, and thereby justify themselves in wrongfully detaining the subjects, insisting that they are simply taking steps to prevent likely social troubles from happening. In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam. However, in February 2008 the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision, allowing 12 citizens who had reverted to Christianity to re-list their religion on identity cards, but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.
In August 2013, following the 3 July 2013 Coup and clashes between the military and Morsi supporters, there were widespread attacks on Coptic churches and institutions in Egypt by Sunni Muslims. According to at least one Egyptian scholar (Samuel Tadros), the attacks are the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century.
USA Today reported that "forty churches have been looted and torched, while 23 others have been attacked and heavily damaged". The Facebook page of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party was "rife with false accusations meant to foment hatred against Copts", according to journalist Kirsten Powers. The Party's page claimed that the Coptic Church had declared "war against Islam and Muslims" and that "The Pope of the Church is involved in the removal of the first elected Islamist president. The Pope of the Church alleges Islamic Sharia is backwards, stubborn, and reactionary." On August 15, nine Egyptian human rights groups under the umbrella group "Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights", released a statement saying,
In December … Brotherhood leaders began fomenting anti-Christian sectarian incitement. The anti-Coptic incitement and threats continued unabated up to the demonstrations of June 30 and, with the removal of President Morsi … morphed into sectarian violence, which was sanctioned by … the continued anti-Coptic rhetoric heard from the group's leaders on the stage … throughout the sit-in.
On February 25, 2016 an Egyptian court convicted four Coptic Christian teenagers for contempt of Islam, after they appeared in a video mocking Muslim prayers.
- Religion in Egypt
- Coptic Orthodox Church
- Catholic Church in Egypt
- Protestants in Egypt
- List of Coptic Churches in Egypt
- Coptic people
- Christianity in Sohag Governorate
- Figures vary, but censuses and other survey based third party analyses estimates the Christian population of Egypt at approximately 5%. Eight consecutive census results from 1927 (8.3% Christian) to 1996 (5.7% Christian) shows a declining trend in Christian population. However censuses may have been under-counting Christians. The nation-wide Demographic and Health Survey (2008) conducted with the support of US AID showed about 5% of the respondents were Christian. QScience Connect in 2013 using 2008 data estimated that 5.1% of Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 59 were Copts. The Pew Foundation estimates 5.1% for Christians in 2010. Other estimates are not based on surveys, but there is an observed trend among generally reliable sources to safely approximate the Christian population at 10%. Encyclopædia Britannica says that Copts constitute up to 10% of the population of Egypt. Government agencies like US department of state, the CIA and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimate the Egyptian Christian population at 9 to 10% (close to 10 million). The BBC and CNN estimate the Coptic Christian population between 6 to 11 million. National Geographic Society and the Century Foundation estimates at 10% of the Egyptian population. Al-Ahram newspaper, one of the government owned newspapers in Egypt, reported the percentage between 10% - 15% (2017). Some sources give 10-20%. The Christian Post in 2004 quotes the U.S. Copt Association as reporting 15% of the population as native Christian.
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