Author: Cornelis Hulsman, Mette Toft Nielsen, and Jenna Ferrecchia
The following list contains articles published in Arab-West Report (AWR) or referred to in AWR statistics of Christians in Egypt and Egyptian Christian migration. Some articles about migration on Christians from the Arab World have been added, but the main focus of this list is Egypt.
Statistics of Christians in Egypt are controversial. Coptic Christians repeatedly claim their numbers are substantially higher than the Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics (CAPMAS) provided until 1996. After 1996, the CAPMAS did not provide figures since the registration of religion is now done through the new computerized Egyptian ID cards. Those figures are kept in the Ministry of Interior and are not made public.
Metropolitan Bishoi told Cornelis Hulsman during an interview on November 2002 that Pope Shenouda had requested bishops to collect Coptic population data for years, but some have done so and others have not. On several occasions Hulsman has asked Bishop Yo’annis, secretary to the Pope, for figures only to be told that these were not available. In meetings between Hulsman and Bishops Agathon and Paphnotius in October 2011 he was told that they had not provided Pope Shenouda with figures from their dioceses thence far, but both were working on compiling statistics for their respectives dioceses, Maghagha and Samalut, both in the governorate of Minia.
The correct numbers of Christians are highly relevant in discussions about equality for Christians in Egyptian society especially concerning:
Equal representation of Christians in various positions in government and administration;
Christian influence on the Egyptian society in general (education, media, etc.).
French scholar, Dr. Philippe Fargues shows in several of his studies that the proportion of Christians in Egypt is declining due to: 1) emigration, 2) Christians having smaller families than Muslims on average, and 3) conversion to Islam.
To create this list of relevant articles, sources were generated from the Arab-West Report database (AWR) by searching for articles containing the words: “Copt, statistics”; “Copt, migration”; “Migration”; “Census”; “Quota”; “Copt and Numbers”; “Coptic Population”; “Marginalization”; “Conversion”; “Coptic Representation”; and “Copt, Hulsman” as Cornelis Hulsman is one of the principle authors of many of the articles published. We also checked cross-references to related articles in the database.
In analyzing data from this list one has to be cautious. Many (but not all) journalists lack accuracy in their reporting. It is thus always needed to try to verify data as much as possible. Yet, this list is extremely interesting because it provides an excellent insight in the arguments in favor of higher or lower proportions of Coptic Christians.
Throughout the years we can distinguish a number of topics related to different periods in the discussions about the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt. These are:
Media discussions about the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act in the U.S., advocating and opposing the right to interfere with non-Egyptian entities in religious freedom issues in Egypt, 1997-2001:
Discussions were raging about a proposal by Republicans with the support of religious liberty and mainly Coptic activists from the U.S. to enact a law obliging the U.S. government to monitor religious freedom in countries outside the U.S. Egyptians saw the proposed law as an unlawful intervention in internal relations in Egypt. Discussions led to a weakening of the original proposal, but the law was enacted in 1998. The discussion about this law has continued for years but has disappeared from media reporting, occurring now only in off-the-record meetings with Egyptian diplomats. The feeling that this law was doing injustice to Egypt has remained.
Ongoing discussions about the proportion of Christians in Egypt, 2002-2007:
Bishop Bishoi suggested in 2002 to keep ten percent as a “guideline” for the proportion of Christians in Egypt. Pope Shenouda complained about the small proportion of Christians in top government positions but never provided figures. In 2006 Cornelis Hulsman and Elizabeth Yell, then editor at Arab-West Report, refer to oft-cited British author Patrick Johnston who, in 1993, provided a high proportion without references. Coptic authors Imad Basili and Kamal Zakhir Musáal also reject government figures, but present no references to the figures they claim. An article about the Conference of the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East does not provide figures but expresses fear for the mass migration of Copts because of the state. The German weekly Der Spiegel presents the proportion of Christians in Egypt and Syria as below 10 percent, but Melanie Erlebach, in this period international coordinator at Arab-West Report, argues that this proportion is still too high.
Discussions following the census of 2006; 2007-2008:
Unlike previous years, when the first statistics following the 2006 census were published no information was included about the number of Christians in Egypt. This fact, and the statement of the Minister of Labor and Immigration in 2007 claiming 10 percent of Christians triggered discussions in various media.
Discussions following Pope Shenouda stating Egypt counts 12 million Christians, 2008-2010:
Pope Shenouda stated in 2008 that Egypt counts 12 million Christians. This is the only known public statement that he has made with an actual number. Since Pope Shenouda, nor the church, has not provided any verifyable sources to back up this claim, it has resulted in much public debate.
Discussions following the January 25, 2011 Revolution, including claims that large numbers of Coptic Christians are leaving the country, 2011-2012:
Debates on the proportion of Copts in Egypt have increased with claims of Coptic human rights lawyer Nabil Gibrail that 100,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt in about six months time following the Egyptian Revolution. Nabil Gibrail has not provided verifiable documents to back up his claims. Other Copts dispute his numbers and also his claims seem to be ideologically motivated.
The list is organized chronologically by date with an excerpt from the article indicating how it relates to numbers of Christians in Egypt.
AWR works with a system of 52 weekly issues per year. Most articles are summary translations from articles in Arabic media. When these were placed in AWR they retained the date they were published in the concerned Arabic publication. But since articles were sometimes published later, the week of publication and the date of publication in some instances are not chronological. For this reason we have placed the articles in this list in chronological order according to the date mentioned on the articles in our database. We have provided the URL in this list for anyone who would like to see the full text in our database.
Prior to 2004, AWR did not mention the translator’s name in the article information for summary translations. Many of the articles cited in this list are summary translations published before 2004 and thus do not have a translator listed in their citations.
It is obvious from this list that standardizing the transliteration of Arabic names has been a major problem for AWR throughout the years. Efforts to standardize names have been made but had insufficient effect since translators in Egypt are not taught how to transliterate. Translators are also often not able to do this systematic because of the different pronounciations that exist of Arabic names. Because sometimes articles were taken from other publications names here were also not provided in a standardized spelling. The consequence is that in this list similar names may appear in different spellings.
Family names are very uncommon for Arabic names that usually follow a name-string system. For this reason names, both Arabic and Western, have been placed as name strings, not using the system of mentioning family name first and then first name(s) as is common in the West.
This document also contains articles dealing with subjects that fall outside the focus of the discussion about the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt but they provide information that are relevant in understanding the context of this discussion.
This list was made for students who want to study the debate about Coptic population statistics. Some comments have been made in the text on the media articles we have found. Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-Chief of AWR, has been adding comments in articles before they were placed online. These are either marked as “CH” or “editor”. He has added new comments in May 2012. These are marked as CH (May 2012). Mette Toft Nielsen also added comments in May 2012. These are marked as MN (May 2012). Other users are encouraged to send us their comments on specific articles and/or add articles or links to articles on this subject in our database. All such inquiries can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARTICLE EXCERPTS Overview of articles since 1997:
Milad Hanna, “Listen to the voices of the country and reason,” Al-Ahrām in Arab West Report, Week 29, Art 6, July 22, 1997. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1997/week-29/6-listen-voices-country-and-reason.
Copts and Muslims gathered under the umbrella of the Wafd party in 1919. They asked for independence through the leader of the party and the nation, Mr. Saad Zaghloul, but they were banished and imprisoned until Egypt became independent under conditions in February 28, 1922. One of these conditions was the British protection of the Coptic minority, but Copts completely refused to be called a minority. In 1923 all Egyptians refused to allocate seats to a certain number of Christians in parliament. In 1924, 16 Copts were elected in the first elections in modern Egyptian history in a parliament which counted 214 members. Saad Zaghloul became the chairman of the parliament, and Wissa Wassef was elected as his deputy in 1928. Wissa later became chairman of the parliament. This liberal period continued from 1922 to 1952 with nothing to spoil the relations between Copts and Christians.
Muhammad ‘Abd al-Quddus, “A fiery report with Dr. Refa’at El-Sa’id,” Al-Sha‘b in Arab West Report, Week 30, Art 12, July 25, 1997. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1997/week-30/12-fiery-report-dr-refaat-el-said.
“Mohammed Abdel Khoudous [CH: correct spelling is Quddus] interviews Dr. el-Sa’id and the result is a remarkably open article which gives an excellent impression of the arguments used by both sides.
Rights of the Copts. I told Dr. Refa’at "Copts are first class citizens. They have the freedom to ask for more rights." Dr. Refa’at answered quickly, "No, there is clear discrimination. Muslims can build any mosque without restrictions and in any place, even in a public square or on agricultural land. But Copts cannot even build a church toilet without having a decree from the president himself. Another example of this discrimination concerns Christian students who read the Qur’ān.
Do you not think that they have the right to also read at least one verse from the Holy Bible (Secondary school students have a book for learning to read Arabic which is full of verses from the Qur’ān but not one single verse from the Bible)?
I told him, "Without getting into details, let me tell you that there are many restrictions on the building of mosques at the present time. Muslims do not have as much freedom to build mosques as you think. What is dangerous is that there is a difference between Coptic demands for more rights and what you say about persecution and second class citizens. This way, you are pushing the country into a civil war and sectarian clashes, or at the least you are causing tension in the relations between Copts and Muslims."
Dr. Refa’at said, "It is not true that I am turning Christians against Muslims. How could this happen while I am calling for national unity! I am just saying that Copts should have equal rights to Muslims. That is not happening at all. You will see evidence if you look at the names of Christians in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Interior. You will find that their numbers do not match at all with their percentage [of population]."
Usamah Salamah, “The highlight of 1997; Copts and the cutting of aid,” Rose al-Yūsuf in Religious News Service from the Arab-World (Arab West Report), Week 30, Art 7, July 28, 1997. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1997/week-30/7-highlight-1997-copts-and-cutting-aid.
The author states that the Jewish lobby in the U.S. has exaggerated numbers of Copts being killed each year as part of a conspiracy to discourage the U.S. and other investors from putting their funds into Egypt’s economy. The Jewish-right supports the Christian population and thus benefits from inflating numbers of Copts and the level of violence against them.
CH (May 2012): This article appeared in the period that Egypt was opposing the proposed International Religious Freedom Act that became law in 1998 (Public Law 105–292, as amended by Public Law 106–55, Public Law 106–113, Public Law 107–228, Public Law 108–332, and Public Law 108–458). This act was passed to promote the advocacy of religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States, and to advocate on the behalf of the individuals viewed as persecuted in foreign countries on the account of religion. (Background on this law).
Maurice Sadeq, “It is not right to describe those who defend Copts as crusaders,” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 37, Art 3, September 17, 1997. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1997/week-37/3-it-not-right-describe-those-who-defend-copts-crusaders.
Al-Dustūr, August 27, 1997, published an article entitled "Crusaders have not put their swords
down yet". The writer expressed his worry at an American economic boycott, or an American marine invasion of Egypt to save Copts. He said that the crusaders still exist, and they do not realize the danger of what they are doing. They use Copts’ problems as a poisoned dagger which they cruelly try to thrust into the homeland’s heart.
Al-Dustūr is not right “when it describes those who defend Copts as crusaders. At the same time it declares the existence of Coptic problems. It is really a serious subject, related to the decreasing citizenship rights of Copts, and discrimination between Muslims and Copts
in favor of Muslims. Citizenship is not only a problem, but also a life and a hope of
Then we should thank Michael Horrowiz, Senator Frank Wolf, Senator Sam Brown, and Pastor
Keith Rodrick, because they felt my pain, and the violation of my human rights. Human rights are no longer an internal matter, as Egypt signed the Human’s Rights agreement. It is no longer acceptable to hit your son while the world watches you, the exact thing that is happening to Copts in Egypt now.
Sadeq argues that the American Congress discussed citizenship rights in Egypt but the Council of Ministers, the People’s Assembly, and the Shoura Council did not.
The National Democratic Party refused to nominate Copts in the elections of both the People’s Assembly, and the Shura Council. 28 governors and 15 chiefs of universities were nominated without there being any Copt among them. The prime minister and ministers are Muslims, higher and lower leadership are Muslims too.
Sadeq argues that the president has no right to give permissions for church building since that Hamayoumi law of 1856 was abolished in 1923. He further adds stories about kidnapping under age Christian girls, broadcasting Christian prayer, degrading students at universities. “They even refuse to announce the real number of Copts in the general census.”
“You have the right to hit me, but I should not cry.”
Habib Labīb, “Copts of Egypt.. Beware ..Dissension is Raising,” Al-Usbū‘ in Religious News Service from the Arab-World (Arab West Report), Week 10, Art 13, March 24, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-13/10-copts-egypt-beware-dissension-raising.
Coptic emigration from Egypt began with the 1952 Revolution and increased due to naturalization laws and perceived discrimination against Copts. The Coptic Association formed abroad in reaction to the rise of Islamism in Egypt. No figures are provided.
The Council of Churches of the City of New York. “Report on the Persecution of Christians by the Council of Churches of the City of New York after its Visit to Egypt,” Religious News Service from the Arab World (Arab West Report), Week 17, Art 6, March 25, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-17/6-report-persecution-christians-council-churches-city-new-york-after-its-visit.
“Every Egyptian is required to have an identification card, which carries data concerning its holder’s religion: Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Our delegation argued that as Americans we are suspicious that whenever ID cards are used there is the possibility that the information they carry may be used, even subconsciously, to discriminate on the basis of that information. When we asked why ID cards were used we were told that they were needed for census and statistical data gathering. Our delegation remained trouble, pointing out that world history teaches that where identification of religion has existed, it has been used to discriminate, oppress and systematically persecute people (e.g. Nazi Germany and South Africa).”
“(…) of the 400 members of current Parliament only five are Christian, and that these were named by President Mubarak, among the ten he is permitted to select. Two Christians are in the President’s Cabinet. With an estimated population of 10 million, equaling 16% of the population, it would seem clear that they are significantly under represented.”
Hamdi Rizq, “Claims of persecuting Copts,” Al-Muṣawwar in Arab West Report, Week 14, Art 9, March 27 – April 3, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-14/9-claims-persecuting-copts.
“The article sums up numbers or Copts in the countries of emigration as well as mentions several Coptic organizations outside Egypt.
Not all the emigrant Copts are against Egypt but a certain strata of them are attacking it night and day in their newspapers and television stations and publishing paid advertisements against it. These attacks are seasonal and increase every time a high ranking Egyptian is visiting an American official. The number of emigrant Copts is highly controversial. Some statistics say they are 50,000 in the US and 15,000 in Canada while a church statistic said they are 300,000 in the US and 35,000 in Canada.”
Cornelis Hulsman, “Freedom of Religious Persecution not through polarization,” Bulletin of the Cairo Foreign Press Association (Spring 1998), in Arab West Report, Week 19, Art 6, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-19/6-freedom-religious-persecution-not-through-polarization.
“Hulsman argues that there are social problems in Egypt but not persecution and that if the proposals for a law promoting religious freedom worldwide becomes law they could lead to polarization between Muslims and Christians in Egyptian society. He gives examples of stories which have been exaggerated in the US.
A few months ago I received a copy of a shocking article with the title "Their blood cries out" which Dr. Paul Marshall, professor at the Institute for Christian Studies at the University of Toronto, wrote in ’The Anglican Digest’. The article starts with the story of Mary who was ’kidnapped’ and subjected to a ’program to transform Mary into a Muslim’. Mary escaped but, writes Marshall, she is a representative of the ’between 7.000 and 10.000 such cases of forced conversion to Islam.’
I have checked the stories about kidnapping Christian girls. Lawyer Maurice Sadek has been very active in spreading these stories and claimed in a lecture in the Ibn Khaldoun Institute some two years ago that he had the files of hundreds of cases proving his point. I went to see Sadek, interviewed him and many of his clients. I obtained documents and found Sadek had at that point not more than 40 cases documented. None of these was kidnapped in the sense that the disappearance was initiated with physical force. The stories show a range of human problems; girls trying to escape poverty or family problems, love stories, etc.”
‘Atif Hilmi, “19 women and a Copt in the New Wasat Party,” Rose al-Yūsuf in Arab West Report, Week 21, Art 9, May 25, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-21/9-19-women-and-copt-new-wasat-party.
“About the new structure of the Party, Madi said that there is a large number of new founding members in addition to the old founding members who did not leave because of the pressure. There are 19 women among the new founding members as opposed to only four previously and there are two Copts in addition to Dr. Rafiq Habib, but one of them died three days before the request for the establishment of the party was presented.”
Jamal ‘Isam al-Din, “NDP sweeps Shura Council Polls,” Al-Ahram Weekly in Arab West Report, Week 25, Art 13, June 25 – July 1, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-25/13-ndp-sweeps-shura-council-polls.
“In mid-term elections 88 new members of the Shura (consultative) council were elected, all of them went to the ruling National Democratic Party because these elections were boycotted by the opposition. Besides this, President Mubarak appointed 47 members bringing the total number of newly elected and appointed members to 135. The list of appointees includes 16 new members and 31 old faces. Among the newly appointed members were three prominent Coptic businessmen: Louis Bishara, a manufacturer of ready-made garments in 10th of Ramadan City, Tharwat Bassili, chairman of a pharmaceutical company in 6th of October City and Raouf Boutros Ghali, chairman of a tourism company. This raised to nine the number of Copts in the Council and to nearly 40 the number of businessmen.”
Muhammad ‘Abd Allah, “A mysterious octopus prevents Al-Azhar graduates from attending the Police Academy,” Al-Usbū‘ in Arab West Report, Week 30, Art 2, July 27, 1998. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-1998/week-30/2-mysterious-octopus-prevents-al-azhar-graduates-attending-police-academy.
“The applications to attend the Police Academy this year reached 25,000 meaning that 10% of those who passed the Thanawya Amma have applied to the Police Academy. Most of those accepted come from Cairo and Alexandria, while 150 to 200 students from the Delta and 50 to 100 students from Upper Egypt are accepted. Five percent of all students accepted are Copts.”