Report on the Plight of Christians in Egypt
03 Feb 2011 I. General Overview
Christianity in Egypt dates to the first century, when Saint Mark preached in the great city of Alexandria. Christianity became the dominant religion in Egypt in the fourth century and remained so even well after the Islamic invasion in the seventh. Some authorities believe Islam only eclipsed Christianity in the middle Ages.
Today, Egypt’s Copts are an endangered minority. Exposed to continuous and subtle pressures, their numbers are dwindling. Tens of thousands emigrate each year; no official figures are available, but reliable sources count 2 million living in Australia, Canada, Europe, Great Britain and the United States. Thousands of Copts who remain in Egypt convert to Islam every year to escape marginalization and/or discrimination. Those who stay faithful to their religion find themselves increasingly alienated in their own country.
Despite their significant numbers estimated at around 8 million, the Copts live as a marginalized and disadvantaged religious minority. In Egypt, Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic law — Shariah — is the principal source of legislation, according to the Egyptian Constitution. This marginalization is notably reflected by the absence of Copts in positions of elected or appointed political office. As a consequence of their lack of political power, the Coptic Christian population is vulnerable to various forms of oppression, discrimination and violence. Forms of oppression include; abusive practices of local police and security forces, by the refusal of security officials to defend them or to prosecute those who have attacked them, and by systematic and discriminatory Egyptian government policies. One particular form of violence against the Coptic Community is the disappearance followed by forced conversions and marriages of Coptic Christian women.
Year after year, the Christians of Egypt continue to endure violent attacks from Muslim radicals. While the government does not openly maltreat Christians, it discriminates against them and hampers their freedom of worship; government agencies sporadically harass Muslim converts to Christianity. Further, the government enforces restrictions on the construction or repair of churches, restrictions that do not apply to mosques. Thus, many new communities do not have churches.
The political atmosphere and the pressure against Christians are increasing the fears among all Christian communities in Egypt. The urgent need is to support the local church without any distinction between confessions or rites in order to reactivate the churches’ social and pastoral institutions for the purpose of filling the gap created by the political, social and economic discrimination of the government against Christians.
The last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first have seen deterioration in relations between Muslims and the Coptic minority in Egypt. This is seen in day-to-day interactions such as the insulting of Coptic priests by Muslim children, and in much more serious events such as attacks on Coptic churches, monasteries, villages, homes and shops, particularly in Upper Egypt from the 1970’s to-date.
Area & Targeted Population