Christianity in Egypt

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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 with 10 million adherents inside Egypt. 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,[1][2] 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.[3][4][5][6][7] 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.[8]

In Egypt, Copts have relatively higher educational attainment, relatively higher wealth index, and a stronger representation in white collar job types, but limited representation in security agencies. The majority of demographic, socioeconomic and health indicators are similar among Copts and Muslims.[9]

Christian Denominations in Egypt by number of adherents[edit]

Denomination Number of Egyptian adherents
Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria 10 million (See Copts in Egypt)[3][4][5][6][7]
Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria 350,000 (3,800 are of Greek descent,[10] the rest are mostly of Syro-Lebanese descent)[citation needed]
Coptic Catholic Church 164,000 (2016) (See Copts in Egypt)


Evangelical Church of Egypt (Synod of the Nile) 280,000[citation needed]
Assemblies of God 7,500 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Baptist 4,000 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Free Methodist 2,000 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Christian Brethren Church 4.000
Anglican Church (Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East) 40,000
Melkite Greek Catholic Church 9,000 (0.8%) (Adherents are mostly of Syro-Lebanese descent)[citation needed]
Armenian Apostolic Church 8,000 (0.1%)[citation needed]
Latin Catholic Church 8,000 (0.1%) (Formerly large communities of Italians and Maltese made up the Latin Catholic population)[citation needed]
Maronite Church 5,000 (0.1%) (Adherents are of Lebanese descent)[citation needed]
Pentecostal Church of God 375 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Syriac Catholic Church 2,000 (>0.1%)[citation needed]
Pentecostal Holiness Church 140 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Armenian Catholic Church 1,200 (>0.1%) (See Armenians in Egypt)[citation needed]
Church of God of Prophecy 110 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Seventh-day Adventist Church 852 [16]
Chaldean Catholic Church 500[citation needed]
Syriac Orthodox Church 450 – 500


The Diocese of Egypt (c. 400 AD)

Egyptian Christians believe that the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded by Mark the Evangelist around AD 33, and Christianity entered Egypt because of The Apostle Mark.

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[17]

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.

President Nasser welcomes a delegation of Coptic bishops (1965)

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.[18] 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.[18]


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.[19][20]

Persecution and discrimination[edit]

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.[21][22]

In 2006, one person attacked three churches in Alexandria, killing one person and injuring 5–16.[23] The attacker was not linked to any organisation and described as "psychologically disturbed" by the Ministry of Interior.[24] In May 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported increasing waves of mob attacks by Muslims against ethnic Copts.[25] Despite frantic calls for help, the police typically arrived after the violence was over.[25] 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.[26] 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.[25]

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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29][30] Most Copts do not support independence or separation movement from other Egyptians.[31]

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."[32] The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim.[33] 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.[34] In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam.[35] 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,[36][37] but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.[38]

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.[39] [40] According to at least one Egyptian scholar (Samuel Tadros), the attacks are the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century.[41]

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."[41][42][43] 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.[41][44]

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.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.[3] However censuses may have been under-counting Christians.[3] The nation-wide Demographic and Health Survey (2008) conducted with the support of US AID showed about 5% of the respondents were Christian.[3] QScience Connect in 2013 using 2008 data estimated that 5.1% of Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 59 were Copts.[4] The Pew Foundation estimates 5.1% for Christians in 2010.[46] 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.[47] 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).[5][48][7] The BBC and CNN estimate the Coptic Christian population between 6 to 11 million.[49][6] National Geographic Society and the Century Foundation estimates at 10% of the Egyptian population.[50][51] Al-Ahram newspaper, one of the government owned newspapers in Egypt, reported the percentage between 10% - 15% (2017).[52] Some sources give 10-20%.[53][11][54] The Christian Post in 2004 quotes the U.S. Copt Association as reporting 15% of the population as native Christian.[55]


  1. ^ "Egypt from "U.S. Department of State/Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs"". United States Department of State. September 30, 2008.
  2. ^ Who are the Christians in the Middle East?. Betty Jane Bailey. June 18, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8028-1020-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e Suh, Michael (15 February 2011). "How many Christians are there in Egypt?". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Mohamoud, Yousra; Cuadros, Diego; Abu-Raddad, Laith (26 June 2013). "Characterizing the Copts in Egypt: Demographic, socioeconomic and health indicators". QScience Connect (2013): 22. doi:10.5339/connect.2013.22. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "Egypt". United States Department of State. The U.S. government estimates the population at 99.4 million (July 2018 estimate). Most experts and media sources state that approximately 90 percent of the population is officially designated as Sunni Muslims and approximately 10 percent is recognized as Christian (estimates range from 5 to 15 percent). Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.
  6. ^ a b c CNN. "Who are Egypt's Coptic Christians?". CNN. The largest Christian community in the Middle East, Coptic Christians make up the majority of Egypt's roughly 9 million Christians. About 1 million more Coptic Christians are spread across Africa, Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to the World Council of Churches.
  7. ^ a b c "Egypt from "Foreign and Commonwealth Office"". Foreign and Commonwealth Office -UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. August 15, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2012.
  8. ^ Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane Alexander (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. 11: 14. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  9. ^ Mohamoud YA, Cuadros DF, Abu-Raddad LJ. Characterizing the Copts in Egypt: Demographic, socioeconomic and health indicators, QScience Connect 2013:22
  10. ^ "English version of Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports a few thousand and Greek version 3.800".
  11. ^ a b "The Copts and Their Political Implications in Egypt". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. October 25, 2005.
  12. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-13. Retrieved 2008-04-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "CNEWA – The Coptic Catholic Church". Archived from the original on 2006-03-01.
  14. ^ "Controversy in Egypt after a prominent church figure declared the number of Copts in Egypt exceeds 12 million". November 2, 2008. Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2009.
  15. ^ "Pope Shenouda III declares to a TV station that the number of Copts in Egypt exceeds 12 million". October 29, 2008.
  16. ^ "Adventist Atlas". Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  17. ^ Todros, ch 3–4.
  18. ^ a b Nisan, Mordechai (2002). Minorities in the Middle East. McFarland. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7864-1375-1.
  19. ^ van der Vliet, Jacques (June 2009), "The Copts: 'Modern Sons of the Pharaohs'?", Church History & Religious Culture, 89 (1–3): 279–90, doi:10.1163/187124109x407934
  20. ^ Reid, Donald Malcolm (2003). "7". Whose Pharaohs?: Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I. U. of California Press. pp. 258ff. ISBN 9780520240698.
  21. ^ WorldWide Religious News. Church Building Regulations Eased Archived March 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. December 13, 2005.
  22. ^ Compass Direct News. Church Building Regulations Eased. December 13, 2005.
  23. ^ Miles, Hugh (April 15, 2006). "Coptic Christians attacked in churches". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
  24. ^ BBC. Egypt church attacks spark anger, April 15, 2006.
  25. ^ a b c Zaki, Moheb (May 18, 2010). "Egypt's Persecuted Christians". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Abrams, Joseph (April 21, 2010). "House Members Press White House to Confront Egypt on Forced Marriages". Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  28. ^ Copts welcome Presidential announcement on Eastern Christmas Holiday Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. December 20, 2002.
  29. ^ Freedom House. Egypt's Endangered Christians. Archived January 7, 2003, at
  30. ^ Human Rights Watch. Egypt: Overview of human rights issues in Egypt. 2005
  31. ^ Coptic Pharaonic Republic Archived February 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Human Rights Watch. World report 2007: Egypt Archived September 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Egypt: National Unity and the Coptic issue. (Arab Strategic Report 2004–2005)". Archived from the original on September 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  34. ^ Egypt: Egypt Arrests 22 Muslim converts to Christianity. November 03, 2003
  35. ^ Shahine, Gihan. "Fraud, not Freedom". Archived October 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Ahram Weekly, 3 – May 9, 2007
  36. ^ Audi, Nadim (February 11, 2008). "Egyptian Court Allows Return to Christianity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
  37. ^ Associated Press. Egypt court upholds right of converted Muslims to return to Christianity Archived November 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. 2008-02-09.
  38. ^ AFP. Egypt allows converts to revert to Christianity on ID Archived April 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. February, 2008.
  39. ^ Chulov, Martin (Aug 15, 2013). "Egypt's Coptic Christians report fresh attacks on churches: Christian leaders blame Muslim Brotherhood supporters for arson and other attacks, including shooting death of teenage girl". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  40. ^ Khairat, Mohamed (Aug 16, 2013). "Coptic churches burn amid violence in Egypt: Coptic Christians call for greater protection as wave of violence sweeps across Egypt". Egyptian Streets. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  41. ^ a b c Powers, Kirsten. "The Muslim Brotherhood's War on Coptic Christians". Aug 22, 2013. Daily Beast. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  42. ^ "FJP Helwan Facebook page on church attacks". August 16, 2013. —mbinenglish. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  43. ^ "Coptic churches burn amid violence in Egypt | Egyptian Streets". Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  44. ^ "Joint Press Release: Non-peaceful assembly does not justify collective punishment – Rights groups condemn lethal violence against those in sit-in and terrorist acts of the Muslim Brotherhood". 15 August 2013. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  45. ^ Michael | AP, Maggie (2016-02-25). "Egypt sentences 4 Coptic teenagers for contempt of Islam". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  46. ^ "Religions in Egypt | PEW-GRF". Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  47. ^ "Copt | Definition, Religion, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Copts constitute up to 10 percent of the population of Egypt.
  48. ^ "Egypt from "The World Factbook"". American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). June 22, 2014.
  49. ^ "BBC - Religions - Christianity: Coptic Orthodox Church".
  50. ^ "Ancient Egypt gave rise to one of the world's oldest Christian faiths". History Magazine. 19 April 2019.
  51. ^ "Excluded and Unequal". The Century Foundation. 9 May 2019. Copts are generally understood to make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
  52. ^ "Egypt's Sisi meets world Evangelical churches delegation in Cairo". Al-Ahram. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  53. ^ Wagner, Don. "Egypt's Coptic Christians: Caught Between Renewal and Persecution". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (October/November 1997). Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  54. ^ Morrow, Adam (24 April 2006). "EGYPT: Attacks Raise Fear of Religious Discord". Inter Press Service. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  55. ^ Chan, Kenneth (7 December 2004). "Thousands Protest Egypt's Neglect of Coptic Persecution". Christian Post. Retrieved 28 June 2014.


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