Bishop Marqus believed in 2007 that Christians in Egypt are roughly between 12 and 15 million people. He based his estimate on the percentage of Christians in the districts his diocese is situated in, which according to him is between 15 and 18 percent. Bishop Marqus said that his approximation also includes the estimated 2,000,000 Egyptian Christians abroad. Fargues critiqued the Bishop’s statement, as he did not provide any indication how that number had been obtained.
It is noteworthy that Catholic clergy estimated the number of conversions to Islam to be higher than Orthodox clergy, including the bishops Picenti and Marqus, who told me that their estimates were too high.
Muhammad ‘Uthman, “Dialogue between the Mediterranean states to address migration problems,” Al-Ahrām in Arab-West Report, Week 36, Art 46, September 10, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-36/46-dialogue-between-mediterranean-states-address-migration-problems.
Prince al-Hasan Bin Ṭalāl, president of the Arab Thought Forum, told members of the Egyptian European Council and European ambassadors in Cairo that there is a need to build bridges of dialogue across the Mediterranean to address mass migration problems and humanitarian tragedies.
Cornelis Hulsman, “Interview with HRH Prince Hasan ibn Talal,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 5, September 11, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-52/5-interview-hrh-prince-hasan-ibn-talal.
Prince Hassan preferred not to respond to actual numbers of declining Christianity in the Arab World but stated: “Well, it appears to me that Western embassies, when looking at the queue of applicants for visas, tend to favor Christian applicants simply because they feel that there is a cultural affinity there, which is in sense a contradiction in terms.” On the question about the consequences of emigration the Prince responded “the question is, can Christianity live in a pluralistic world, can Islam live in a pluralistic world, can Judaism live in a pluralistic world?”
Bisan Kassab, “Muntasal-Zayyat: although the number of Copts in the Union for Liberty experienced only a slight rise, it is still the highest number among all of the Islamic parties in Egypt,” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 38, Art 17, September 24, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-38/17-muntas803ir-al-zayy257t-although-number-copts-union-liberty-experienced-only.
“The deputy of the Union for Freedom Party, Muntaṣir al-Zayyāt revealed that the number of the party members has now exceeded 1000 people, which is the minimum number required by the law of parties. Al-Zayyāt said that the number of Coptic members has increased from five, during the party’s constitutive declaration statement, to eight which is the highest number amongst all of the Islamic parties in Egypt. He pointed out that he would allow greater participation of the Copts in the party in order to dispel their fears.”
‘Adil Gindi, “Discrimination against Copts,” Watani International in Arab West Report, Week 39, Art 30, September 30, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-39/30-discrimination-against-copts.
A recent report entitled “Discrimination at Work in the Middle East and North Africa” by the International Labor Organization (ILO), said that “One of the most resilient forms of discrimination is the targeting of Copts in Egypt, who are denied equal access to education and equal opportunities in recruitment and promotion. Very few are appointed to key positions in the Government or are candidates for parliament. Enrolment of Copts in police academies and military schools is restricted, and very few are teachers and professors.
The author highlights ten of the factors of discrimination mentioned in the report made by ILO.
Sharif al-Dawakhli, “A new disappearance case of a young Christian girl from Beni Suef and the American Coptic Union claims that the number of girls kidnapped reached half a million,” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 40, Art 14, October 8, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-40/14-new-disappearance-case-young-christian-girl-beni-suef-and-american-coptic-union (http://www.copts4freedom.com and AWR, 2007, Week 37, art. 5; and Week 38, art. 6).
“[…] the American Coptic Union [See: http://www.copts4freedom.com/] issued a statement expressing its regret with the continuing phenomenon of the disappearance of Christian girls, claiming that half a million girls were kidnapped in Egypt. [Reviewer: The article does not mention any specifics regarding this figure presented but the American Coptic Union is known for its exaggerations]. The Union asserted that it will ask the U.S. administration to implement the recommendations suggested by the annual U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2007. (Reviewer: Reviewer: For more information on the report see: AWR, 2007, Week 37, Art. 5; and Week 38, Art. 6)”
Cornelis Hulsman, “Editorial,” Arab-West Report, Week 28, Art 1, October 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-28/1-editorial.
“Much discussion was created about an American document that allegedly claims that direct aid should preferably to locations of high density Coptic population (Art. 11-17). We haven’t seen the document, but the claims are serious. As Robier Faris wrote, "Portrayed as American proteges, they were made to appear as an alien bloc of Egyptians at best, and as foreigners at worst. The US is hated on the Egyptian street because of its policy in Iraq and Palestine, and linking it to Copts does not work in their favor." (Art. 13)
“Claims about Copts owning a large percentage of wealth in Egypt, much larger than their numbers in population do suggest (Art. 39) also adds to tensions. Certainly there are rich Copts but an estimated 80% of the Copts lives on or below the poverty level. No wonder Bishop Bisantī provided Rose al-Yūsuf with a long interview reflecting his views on church and state relations and rejecting Western interference in Coptic affairs, especially referring to U.S. government funding (Art. 47).”
CH (May 2012): The estimate of 80% of the Copts living close to or below the poverty line come from an interview with Dr. Farid Fadel in 2006. This estimate matches with what bishops in the research of Maria Rezzonico in 2007 told us.
Cornelis Hulsman, “Jordanian prince: Christians must stay,” Katholiek Nieuwsblad in Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 8, October 12, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-52/8-jordanian-prince-christians-must-stay.
The answer to ongoing Christian emigration is through promotion of values of pluralism and reducing conflicts. “Conflicts have evoked religious extremism because many Muslims see the Western interventions as unjust. Christians in the West often respond to that with a lack of knowledge.”
Lotus Kiwan, “Chairman of the Middle Eastern Christians Association: “These are the numbers of churches compared with those of mosques in all the Egyptian governorates; 6000 churches and 65000 mosques,” Ṣawt al-Ummah in Arab West Report, Week 43, Art 21, October 29, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-43/21-chairman-middle-eastern-christians-association-these-are-numbers-churches.
“Middle East Christians Association issued statistics on the number of churches and mosques in Egypt.”
The article has a table, which provides the number of churches and mosques for the different cities.
‘Abd al-Latif, ‘Antar and Sami Jad al-Haqq, “The Azhar shaykhs answer: Copts want to increase the number of churches to say that Egypt is a Coptic nation, despite the fact that Islam is its official religion,” Ṣawt al-Ummah in Arab-West Report, Week 43, Art 22, October 29, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-43/22-azhar-shaykhs-answer-copts-want-increase-number-churches-say-egypt-coptic.
Several Muslim Shaykhs responded to statistics that the Middle East Christian Association published about the numbers of mosques and churches in Egypt. Dr. Muṣṭafá al-Shak‘ah, member of the Academy for Islamic Research described the statistics as wrong and false. He claimed that Christians want to build churches so that they can claim that Egypt is a Coptic nation. He added that many churches do not have enough people pray in them.
Karabo Che Mokoape, “Is the Egyptian church shrinking?” Strek Magazine in Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 4, November 3, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-52/4-egyptian-church-shrinking.
The Orthodox Coptic church remains the umbrella for more than 90% of Christians in Egypt, however, it has been encroached upon by a resurgent indigenous traditional protestant church, as well as a rapidly growing Evangelical community.
Kasr el-Dobara is the Egyptian answer to the mega church, where more than 5000 thousand worshippers gather in energetic and defiant faith. On the other side of town is Aghapy TV, the first Christian station in Egypt was established in 2005. The station is a personal project of Pope Shenouda and is another bow in the public relations bow of the Orthodox church. Now its coverage reaches as far as US and Mexico.
However, such successes may mask fundamental weaknesses within the wider church. What perceived growth there is within church communities is often at the expense of other churches. There is no evidence, beyond the anecdotal, to support the claims made some Christian organisations, of significant conversions from Islam to Christianity.
A fundamental disagreement as to the relative size of the Christian community in Egypt is central to assessing to what extent, if any Christians are being marginalised. This is particularly the case because the figures quoted by Christians and the government are miles apart. According to the Coptic Church, Christians make up as much as 13% of the nation’s 73 million population. Estimates made by some Christian advocacy groups put the figure and 20%. The Central Agency for Population Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the state agency, on the other hand works with a figure of 5.5%. It bases this figure primarily on the results of the last census.
Fresh controversy stemming from this discrepancy reared its head in August of this year, when the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its annual report on Egypt. Quoting an 11% estimate, the report criticised the Egyptian government for permitting continuing under representation of Christian within the government and other state institutions. Dr Eric Denis, a researcher with CEDEJ (Centre d‘Etudes et de Documentation Economique, Juristique et Sociales), who has extensively researched the subject, puts the estimate at 7%.
Egypt’s Christian community is indeed underrepresented in the higher levels of government. It is true that Christians hold only 5 seats or in the 440 seat Maglis el Sha’b (People’s Assembly). It is also true that none of the country’s governors, ambassadors, nor university heads are Christian. This is a serious problem and a source of tension among Christians,. However, Christians are guilty inflating their numbers as a means of lobbying the government for concessions in other areas, which raises tensions yet further.
In fact this masks what might be far more serious threat to the Church’s long-term viability in Egypt. Kees Hulsman, the director of the Centre for Arab West Understanding (CAWU), says that between five and seven thousand Christians convert to Islam annually. Most of these converts are young women, between the ages of 18 and 25, who convert to Islam through marriage, for practical and/or financial reasons. All things being equal the number of converts between the two religions would cancel each other out. However, conversion from Islam to any other faith is forbidden under Sharia law and not recognised by the legal system. Therefore, the Christian community cannot replenish its numbers by receiving new believers to replace those who have left.
Furthermore, Egypt has experienced an unprecedented emigration exodus, supported by the fact that it is fourth highest recipient of remittances from citizens living abroad. Controversial immigration policies by many receiving Western states, and the US in particular, have meant that Christian Egyptians are grossly overrepresented among emigrants.
Tereza Kamal and Nader Shukry, “Sectarian violence in Gabal-al-Teir, Minya. Truck loads of violence,” Watani International in Arab West Report, Week 44, Art 29, November 4, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-44/29-sectarian-violence-gabal-al-teir-minya-truck-loads-violence.
The rocky Gabal-al-Teir (Mountain of the Birds) towers high above the lush green fields on the eastern bank of the Nile valley in Samalout, Minya, in Upper Egypt. Perched right on top is the breathtakingly beautiful Monastery of the Holy Virgin. And around the monastery is the village of Gabal-al-Teir which has a predominantly Coptic population of some 7000 residents. Further down on the mountainside, a mere 150 metres down, lies the village al-Abed with a population of some 500 Muslims.
Tamir Shukri, “Pressreview: Najib Sawirus, the Brotherhood has no power to permit or prohibit,” Arab-West Report, Week 45, Art 16, November 7, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-45/16-naj299b-sawirus-brotherhood-has-no-power-permit-or-prohibit.
Al-Aḥrār has quoted well-known businessman – Sawirus – as saying, “I tell the Brotherhood: “To hell with you.” As Copts are Egyptians, they enjoy the rights provided to all Egyptians, including running for presidency.” [Reviewer: The daily Al-Miṣrī al-Yawm has released a transcript of his statement; however it did not include this offensive quote that Al-Aḥrār has published.]
In Al-Dustūr, Iqbāl Barakah argued that the manifesto has unveiled the ugly face of the Muslim Brotherhood that has chosen to eliminate political rights of the three quarters of citizens, “None for women (estimated as half of the population) and none for Copts.”
(Reviewer: According to 2007 census, women make up 48.88% of population [see: http://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/مصر#.D8.A7.D9.84.D8.B3.D9.83.D8.A7.D9.86]; however, there is no definitive estimation on the number of Copts – it ranges between 6 to 8%.)
Cornelis Hulsman and Sawsan Gabra Ayoub Khalil. “One-sided reporting about Egypt,” Reformatorisch Dagblad in Arab-West Report, Week 51, Art 3, November 28, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-51/3-one-sided-reporting-about-egypt.
Egyptian bishops frequently claim with great certainty that Christians make up between 10 and 15 percent of the population, while the French statistician P. Fargues and others have shown that the percentage of Christians in Egypt has declined in the past decades from 8 to 5.5 percent. These exaggerated estimates are used to show how Christians are discriminated against in top functions, or that the church obtained too few permits for church building. This subordination does exist but the politically motivated exaggerated estimates are dishonest.
Cornelis Hulsman, “Christian activists’ contributions to Christian migration from the Arab world; can Christianity survive in the Arab world?” Arab-West Report, Week 51, Art 2, December 5, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-51/2-christian-activists-contributions-christian-migration-arab-world-can.
“The percentage of Christians has been declining in every Arab country since the First World War. Egypt's Christians made up 8.14% of the population in 1907. This is now 5,5%.”
“It is estimated that 70% of all Egyptian emigrants to the West are Christian, a huge percentage bearing in mind that 5,5% to 6% of Egyptians are Christian. The great majority of these emigrants are well educated, reducing the number of educated Copts in Egypt and thus weakening the influence of Coptic laymen in both the church and the state.
Coptic Orthodox Bishop Pisenti of Ma‘sarah and Hilwān estimated that approximately 5,000-10,000 Christians convert to Islam annually, "remarking that this represents a low percentage on the total number of Copts," that the bishop estimates to be between 10 and 15 million. The bishop also estimates half of these conversions to be young Christian girls and the other half to be related to divorce.
But if one uses the statistics Fargues accepts, and accepts that population growth is 1.83% or 1,409,100,out of a population of 77 million and of these 84,546 are Christians, half of them women, making the conversion of Christians to Islam close to 9% of their natural growth.”
(Contains an entire section on “Demographic changes”.)
‘Adil Jindi, “Effective equality is the way to real citizenship”, Waṭanī al-Dawlī in Arab West Report, Week 50, Art 21, December 16, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-50/21-effective-equality-way-real-citizenship. (ILO, see the report: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/declaris/DECLARATIONWEB.DOWNLOAD_BLOB?Var_DocumentID=6819.)
“The author explains his study about the percentage of Copts hired as teaching staff of Assiut University in order to prove that there is real discrimination practiced against Copts in taking over high-ranking state posts.
According to information posted on the university’s official Web site for 2006-2007 academic year, al-Jindī and his collaborating team found out that there are 48 (± 3) Coptic professors out of 819 – less than 6%, while no single Copt heads a department, and there are 108 departments in the university. Furthermore, there are 22 (± 2) Coptic teachers out of 1271 – 1.7%. Certainly, this percentage will shrink in the coming generations. The author adds that it is known that Copts are estimated as making up more than 25% of population of upper Egyptian cities; therefore, they make up 19-to-30% of students at the university [Editor: the percentages given here are inflated].
He then wonders how 30% of students are Copts when only 1.7 are hired as teachers [Editor: the author first states Christian students at university comprise 19 to 30% of all students, and then continues with the 30%. The author provides his own inflated estimates and does not base himself on actual university statistics. Regardless of this inflation it is likely Copts are underrepresented].
Iman al-Ashraf, “Pope Shenouda to Alexandrian Copts: My spine hurts me and the story of the one billion Catholics does not worry me... it is faith, and not numbers, that matters,” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 51, Art 42, December 25, 2007. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-51/42-pope-shenouda-alexandrian-copts-my-spine-hurts-me-and-story-one-billion.
“The pope, nevertheless, responded to a question about the one billion followers of the Catholic Church in the world, saying that in religion it is only faith that matters and not the numbers of followers of a certain belief.”
Majdi Khalil, “How do we stop violence against Copts?” Waṭanīal-Dawlī in Arab West Report, Week 3, Art 6, January 20, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-3/6-how-do-we-stop-violence-against-copts.
The author “argues, the violence against Copts has increased over the last few years. It is no longer linked to the violent incidents that erupted in the 1990s. Khalīl attributes the escalation of violence against Copts to the deep penetration of religious fundamentalism among a wide range of Egyptians, criticizing the state’s passive approach to violence.
Khalīl cites statistics collected by the Ibn Khaldūn Center for Development Studies that reveal that 240 major sectarian violence incidents took place over the last few years. The security forces intervened to stop the incidents, and national and international press covered them. This figure does not include the other minor incidents that occurred. Another study revealed that 4000 Copts were killed or hurt in the incidents in addition to the millions of pounds worth of destroyed Coptic businesses and properties (Editor: the statement of 4000 Copts being killed or hurt is very tendentious. The author would have done better to separate between being killed and being hurt)”
Ishaq Ibrahim, “Luring Copts into politics,” Watani International in Arab West Report, Week 3, Art 7, January 20, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-3/7-luring-copts-politics.
“A workshop organized by the Forum of National Contribution discussed the role of Copts in the political life of the country. As well as other issues, participants debated the possibility of having a quota for Copts in parliament and the establishment of a committee to monitor discrimination.
Dr. Harb criticized the common practice of Copts being more active on the economic rather than on the political front, saying this promoted sectarianism and supported fanatic claims that Copts controlled 30 per cent of the nation’s wealth.
Emad Gad of al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies said democracy was not restricted to people casting their ballots. He asked whether the ruling regime really wanted genuine reform, and argued that the NDP had an interest in isolating Copts in their churches and preventing them from taking on a political and societal role. He said categorisation in schools and social clubs on the basis of religion was the first step to the absence of Coptic representation in the Parliament.”
Cornelis Hulsman, “Editorial,” Arab-West Report, Week 43, Art 1, January 22, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2007/week-43/1-editorial.
“Muslim author Jamāl al-Bannā stated that Western nations are targeting Egypt’s social order and national unity. The chairman of the Middle East Christians Association claimed that Christians have much fewer churches in relation to their proportion of the population than Muslims have mosques. Interesting article by Majdī Khalīl about Copts and the Egyptian government.
Sawṭ al-Ummah (Art. 21) reported on the chairman of the Middle East Christians Association claiming that there are 1960 churches and 65,000 mosques in Egypt. He then calculates the average number of Christians per church and average number of Muslims per mosque. It is certainly true that Christians have much fewer churches in comparison to their numbers then Muslims have mosques, but there are also major flaws in his argument: The number of churches and mosques is higher than what is reported here. The numbers given are probably the numbers of registered houses of worship. The size of the houses of worship are not taken into consideration. One would need to calculate the number of seats in comparison to their religious community.The Association gives a percentage of Christians that is too high, creating another distortion.”