Ethnic Egyptian Christians — known as Copts, which derives from the Greek
Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian — are proud of their ancient roots. They
received the Gospel from St. Mark, who in the middle of the first century sowed the faith in
the Egyptian city of Alexandria, second only to Rome in the ancient Mediterranean world.
Centuries before the ascendancy of the Arabs and Islam, Alexandrian Christianity blossomed.
It provided the universal church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary
responsible for Christianitys explosive expansion in the Greco-Roman world. Alexandrian
Christianity introduced the cenobitic and hermitic variants of monastic life and peopled the
church with some of its greatest saints and scholars.
Demographics. Egypt occupies a choice position. It lies mainly in northeast Africa,
but also includes the Sinai Peninsula. It controls the Suez Canal, which provides the shortest
commercial shipping route between Asia and Europe.
About 90 percent of Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Though the state is secular, the central
government champions Sunni orthodoxy and remains on guard for any signs of dissent, such as
Shiism or Saudi-inspired fundamentalism. The government supports the countrys mosques
(which number over 75,000) and selects the head of the preeminent center of Sunni learning in
the world, Al Azhar University in Cairo.
The Copts today form the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Embracing more
than 10 percent of Egypts population of 80.5 million, the Copts belong to three groups.
About 95 percent belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is led by Shenouda III, Pope
and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. This church developed independently after breaking
communion with the churches of Rome and Constantinople after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Despite centuries of relative isolation and on-again off-again discrimination, the Coptic
Orthodox Church has, since the middle of the last century, experienced a revival.
Other Copts belong to the Coptic Catholic or Coptic Evangelical churches. Other Christian
communities are found mostly in the urban centers of Alexandria and Cairo. The largest is the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa, led by Theodoros II, Pope and
Patriarch of Alexandria. Others include the Anglican; Armenian Apostolic; Chaldean, Latin,
Maronite, Melkite Greek and Syriac Catholic; and Syriac Orthodox churches.
Sociopolitical situation. Modern Egypt was born when a military coup détat in
1952 ousted King Farouk and the remnant of British imperial authority, which had controlled
Egypt since the late 19th century. Shortly after the coup, its chief architect, Gamal Abdel
Nasser, assumed power as president. Over the years of his long presidency (he died in 1970),
Nasser initiated reforms that included the nationalization of the Suez Canal and the
centralization of economic planning.
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Tags: Middle East Christians Egypt Emigration Coptic Orthodox Church Northeast Africa