Country Profile: Egypt
Updated March 2015
Population: 86.8 million
Government type: Republic
Religion: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 86.6%; Christian 12.8%; Other 0.6%
Egypt was predominantly Christian, and a major centre for Christian scholarship, until the initial Islamic invasion in AD639. Since then, Muslim rule and Islam have predominated, though the Coptic church in Egypt remains the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
From 1981, Egyptian politics were dominated by President Hosni Mubarak. His rule was considered repressive, and his security forces brutal. A popular uprising in February 2011 forced President Mubarak to step down and hand power to the military.
Parliamentary elections were held in November that year, with Islamic parties winning 73 per cent of the seats. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party beat the more radical Salafist Nour Party into second place. The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was later elected president in 2012.
Christians, already suffering legal discrimination in education and employment, expressed concern about the growing domination of the Islamic parties. In July, the constituent assembly passed a new constitution increasing Islam’s influence on the country. In June 2013, President Morsi appointed more Islamists to leading positions, to the dismay of the secular opposition. The following month, on the first anniversary of Mr Morsi’s rule, mass demonstrations led to his removal by the military.
What followed was a violent backlash against the Christian minority, whom militants accused of conspiring to bring down the elected government. Egypt’s Christians pointed out that many millions of Egyptians, including secularists and moderate Muslims, came together to call for President Morsi’s removal, and insisted the Christian minority had been made into a scapegoat.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims sometimes ran high before the removal of the President. But after the President’s ousting Islamists carried out a wave of attacks against Christian churches, homes, businesses and institutions across the country.
In the wave of violence that followed the President’s removal, nine Christians were killed and 82 attacks were recorded on churches. Worst hit were towns in Minya and Assiut governorates.
The army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, won the presidency in elections in May 2014.
Many thousands of Christians have fled the country and concern is growing for the security of the Christian minority who remain. A growing Islamist insurgency based in Sinai and with alleged links to Islamic State is a particular focus for this concern.
Muslim-background believers in Egypt have always been at risk. As apostates who have renounced Islam, they are considered to have betrayed their family, their country and their religion. The case of Bishoy Armia Boulous (formerly known by his Arabic name, Mohammed Hegazy) has attracted international attention: he was accused of blasphemy for attempting to change his religious status on his ID card to ‘Christian’.
More recently, Christians have been concerned by a rising trend of blasphemy allegations made against them. Teacher Dimyana Abd Al-Nour fled the country in 2014 after being convicted of ‘blasphemy’; she had been accused by students and parents at the Luxor school where she taught social studies.
Meanwhile, Kirollos Shawqi, also from the Luxor area, was sentenced to six years in jail in 2014, after being convicted of ‘blasphemy’ and ‘inciting sectarian violence’. His crime was simply to have ‘liked’ a Christian forum on an Arabic-language Facebook page.
Current and recent projects include:
- Establishing ‘Self Help Groups’ where Christian women can give each other moral and spiritual support and develop plans to transform their community.
- Support for Christians who have been affected by anti-Christian violence.
Sources: Assyrian International News Agency; BBC; International Christian Concern; Middle East Concern; Morning Star News; Operation World; Release International; Reuters; The World Factbook
Updated March 2015