“Kamāl Murād and Ahmad ‘Abd al-Jalīl (no further details mentioned) said the Coptic lawyers’ bloc comprises 10 percent of the whole institution (Egypt’s Bar Association). It is, therefore, an effective electoral faction and all nominees seek their support. Even the Muslim Brotherhood group puts a Coptic nominee on its list.
Ramzī said contenders always seek Copts’ support because they are 35,000 in number (Editor: is this number accurate? One usually needs to be cautious when claims involving numbers are made).”
Robeir al- Faris, “Oh Egypt, Where are you heading to?” Watani International in Arab-West Report, Week 35, Art 35, August 31, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-35/15-oh-egypt-where-are-you-heading.
Mustafa al-Fiqi, Head of the international relations committee in Parliament, stated in Ṣawt al-UmmahThat Copts re not persecuted. According to Dr Fiqi, Mubarak’s time is the golden era for Copts. "The Coptic file is being handled with absolute transparency," he said (Editor AWR: transparency? Why then is it practically impossible to obtain a list of permits given for churches to be build or restored? Of course there are also other examples showing lack of transparency). Al-Fiqi provides arguments and al-Faris disputes them.
Ṣawt al-Ummah asked whether Copts were a minority in Egypt, to which Dr Fiqi reiterated his unsubstantiated claim that Copts numbered 10 per cent of the population and owned 30 per cent of Egypt’s national wealth. Reading Dr Fiqi would make one think that the number of Copts was known. while the fact is there is no official figure on this number; it is one of the best kept State secrets (Editor AWR: this is not true, figures can be obtained from the CAPMAS, Copts are skeptical of CAPMAS’ figures but these are certainly not state secrets). When asked about this figure, the supervisor of Egypt’s most recent census which was held in 2006 said: "Ask about anything except this figure which gives us a headache." At the time, Watani commented: "Three guesses anyone why the headache?"
“Egypt without minorities,” Rose al-Yūsuf in Arab-West Report, Week 36, Art 28, September 1, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-36/28-egypt-without-minorities.
The author claims ”that, as Islam grew, minorities started feeling excluded from their country, leaving their jobs in the public sector and focusing on the private sector,” and claims “that, according to the 2006 census, Christians now represent only 6 percent of the entire population.”
CH: It is uncertain on what these claims are based since the census of 2006 did not present any figures of Christians in Egypt.
The author then points out that, if this trend does not change, there would be no more Christians in Egypt within 25 years or less, adding that this would be a catastrophe since this would be the “end of this civilized history,” and harm the image of equality between people of different religions in Egypt. “Losing these minorities could destroy this bridge while Israel is building more and stronger bridges with the West.” The author is asking for “grass-roots efforts and governmental awareness and a precise plan to avoid this catastrophe.”
Hāshim Sālih, “Arab Christians, and the Enlightenment,” Al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ in Arab-West Report, Week 36, Art 22, September 4, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-36/22-arab-christians-and-enlightenment.
Prince Talāl Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz called through al-Nahār newspaper to save Arab Christians and urge them not to migrate as their countries need them.
‘Amr Bayyumi and Rajab Ramadan, “Pope Shenouda: There are 12 million Christians in Egypt. The church knows the size of its population and we do not agree with the declared figure,” Al-Miṣrī al-Yawm in Arab-West Report, Week 44, Art 40, October 27, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-44/40-pope-shenouda-there-are-12-million-christians-egypt-church-knows-size-its.
Pope Shenouda states that the Christian population in Egypt is 12 million. He said to CTV Satellite channel yesterday that the church knows the size of its population and does not agree with the figure the state provided.
Sharif Dawakhli, Ibrahim al-Tayyib, “Long live the crescent ‘or’ the cross!” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 44, Art 3, October 28, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-44/3-long-live-crescent-or-cross (www.eipr.org/en/reports/FRB_quarterly_rep_jul08_en/0408.htm).
“The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) published its quarterly report on freedom of religion and belief in Egypt (Reviewer: See www.eipr.org/en/reports/FRB_quarterly_rep_jul08_en/0408.htm). The report sheds light on the latest developments in freedom of religion and belief in Egypt from July to September, 2008.
The EIPR report observes an expansion in the acts of violence and sectarian tensions which it says extend from Shubrā al-Khaymah in Greater Cairo, to Atfīh in Giza, through Naj‘ Hammādī in Qinā, al-Fishn in Banī Suwayf, Samallūt and Millūy in al-Miniā.
The forceful intervention by the security apparatus to prevent the illegal restoration works of churches was also documented in this report. Furthermore, a number of freedom-of-religion-related judicial cases were demonstrated. As for the sectarian tension incidents, the report named nine.”
Abu al-‘Ila Madi, “Your Holiness the pope, Christians number five million and not 12!” Ṣawt al-Ummah in Arab-West Report, Week 45, Art 36, November 3, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-45/36-your-holiness-pope-christians-number-five-million-and-not-12.
Abu al-‘Ila Madi suggests “that the British forces and individuals were counted with the Christians of Egypt in all of the censuses that were conducted under the British occupation since 1917.” Abu al-‘Ila Madi states that the proportion of Christians today is around 6 percent. He refers to Egyptian and Arab sources like ’Atlas Ma‘lūmāt al-‘Ālam al-‘Arabī’ (Atlas of Information about the Arab World) by Philip Khārij and Rafīq al-Bustānī.
Samir Marqus, “Christians of the East: absent and disappearing,” Al-Miṣrī al-Yawm in Arab-West Report, Week 45, Art 21, November 4, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-45/21-christians-east-absent-and-disappearing.
The dwindling number of Christians left in the Middle East is cause for grave concern. Samīr Marqus addresses the reasons behind this emigration and calls on all citizens of the Middle East to reverse this trend. In 1998 the Lebanese newspaper al-Nahār published a supplement entitled ‘Stop the migration of Eastern Christians’.
Marqus wonders why it is that Christians in the region feel threatened. He questions whether it is related to the rise of political Islamic movements that have reviewed the legal status of non-Muslims or whether it is related to the existence of totalitarian regimes or whether it is actually a result of poor decisions on the part of the Christians themselves?
It is of great importance “for everyone to recognize that there is a serious problem,” and that there are insufficient mechanisms in place to promote pluralism. Christians can voluntarily leave the public sphere but they could also be forced to leave and excluded or marginalized if the concept of citizenship is lacking. Marqus quotes the thinker Muhammad Sīd Ahmad who stated that “the Arab silence on Christian emigration is a weapon that Arabs are inflicting on themselves.”
Khalid Isma‘il, “The war will be between the following parties: National, Coptic and Brotherhood Parties and there will be no place for neither Liberals nor Socialists!” Al-Dustūr in Arab West Report, Week 46, Art 4, November 12, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-46/4-war-will-be-between-following-parties-national-coptic-and-brotherhood-parties.
“The role that different political parties play in Egypt will be crucial to shaping the political future of the country. In this article Khālid Isma‘īl is pessimistic about the role the opposition can play.
[…] the only two existing parties representing the opposition are the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic parties [Editor AWR: there are no Coptic political parties in Egypt but Pope Shenouda does have political influence and a large number of Copts support this] while each has its own confrontation with the National Democratic Party. In the context of the hidden war between the National Democratic Party and the Coptic party, Pope Shenouda, back from his medical trip to the U.S, declared the real number of Copts in Egypt is 12 million; double the number declared by the National Democratic Party.”
Cornelis Hulsman and Sawsan Gabra, “Muslim-Christian tensions around the Monastery of Abu Fana in context,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 12, November 15, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/12-muslim-christian-tensions-around-monastery-ab363-f257n257-context.
I believe that the emigration of Christians from the Arab world harms the ideal of pluralist societies. It is important to be aware of both Coptic statistics as well as the reasons for the ongoing migration of Christians from the Arab World. Philippe Fargues, a French statistician who did much research into studying the numerical decline of Arab Christianity calls statistics counting. What we have so far in Egypt is church estimates of the number of Christians as opposed to the counting carried out by Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics [CAPMAS], the government office that is responsible for the 10-yearly census. The differences are stark; with church leaders providing estimates between 10 percent and 20 percent of population and CAPMAS and French statistical research providing a figure of around 6 percent, a decline from 8 percent in the 1920s. Pope Shenouda asked all bishops to provide him with statistics of the number of Christians in their respective dioceses and recently stated that Christians make up 12 percent of the population but we do not know how that calculation was made and we thus have statements that are not verifiable. Authorities in Egypt, whether church, state or Muslim organizations generally all want their word to be final. The general public is supposed to accept things because they say so and that satisfies most Egyptians but I want to see evidence. I want to see how Pope Shenouda has come by this percentage. Thus far the church has not made it possible for independent researchers to verify their claims. CAPMAS, however, did show French researchers how they came by their numbers. With the current data available I believe the conclusions of the French statisticians about the number of Christians in Egypt are the closest to reality. In other words Christians in Egypt and Coptic migrants in the West generally overestimate their numbers.
Why do Christians emigrate? I have met and spoken with hundreds of Christians who have emigrated and there are a combination of factors involved: escaping violence or fear of violence, better economic opportunities in the West, family and friends who emigrated before them and who encourage others to follow, greater freedom opportunities, living in societies that are not dominated by Islam, better prospects for their children. Some of these factors apply to Muslims as well but it remains highly remarkable that an estimated 70 percent of all Egyptians emigrating to a Western country are Christian. If around 6 percent of the Egyptian population is Christian and 70 percent of Egyptians emigrating to the West is Christians then emigration is a major factor reducing the percentage of Christians living in Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has witnessed a great revival since the 1950s, increasing the numbers of monks and priests and reviving monasteries as Abū Fānā are just some of the fruits of this revival. I support that revival but believe it should not be only inwardly oriented but should take into consideration the fact that Christians are a numerical minority in a predominantly Muslim society and thus Christians would benefit from taking into account the concerns of the Muslim majority in sensitive issues. By acting in this way Metropolitan Athanasius of Beni Suef, bishop from 1964-2000, was able to double the number of churches in his diocese without disrupting social peace. He avoided tall church spires when needed, visited Christians and Muslims on pastoral visits in the area, and managed to be both a great spiritual leader and a diplomat. For me he is an example of how church revival and avoiding tensions with Muslims can go hand in hand. Revival, however, that results in tensions spurs emigration and in the long run will be self-defeating.
If we want to support a pluralist society in Egypt we need to work toward reducing the factors that result in emigration. That is reducing tensions, improving economic opportunities and promoting greater freedoms. The focus of this lecture is Muslim-Christian tensions and therefore I want to focus on this. I strongly disagree with those Christians who primarily put the blame for tensions on Islam and Muslims. These are people who claim that Islam is inherently violent. Islam is not. Goddard’s ’Muslim Perceptions of Christianity’ highlights the differences in Muslim interpretations of Muslim scriptures; some are indeed not very friendly about Christians, a small number are even outright aggressive, some are very positive about Christians and a great majority of authors represent a middle-of-the road view; more concerned with internal discussions in Islam than in a dialogue with Christians.
Basma William, Muhammad Munir, “First Coptic woman mayor,” Watani International in Arab West Report, Week 47, Art 32, November 23, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-47/32-first-coptic-woman-mayor.
“William writes about the first female mayor in Egypt, who is also a Copt.
For the first time in the history of Upper-Egypt, a Christian female woman has been appointed as a mayor in one of the villages of Assiut and was supported not only by Christians but by Muslims as well.
Kombouha has a population of 10,000 residents, 95 per cent of whom are Christian. It is a thriving trade centre, and enjoys high levels of education especially among girls.”
CH (May 2012): Watani International has translated the Arabic word “umdah” as “mayor” but I think village head would have been a better translation. There are more (but not many) Copts who are village heads.
Khalid al-Kaylani, “Christians number five million in Egypt and not 12 as Pope Shenouda states,” Ṣawt al-Ummah in Arab-West Report, Week 48, Art 34, November 24, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-48/34-christians-number-five-million-egypt-and-not-12-pope-shenouda-states.
Dr. Mukhtār Hallūdah, former chairman of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics says "He [Pope Shenouda] does not have the authority to do so; for the census is the state’s authority, and the law prohibits any other institution from conducting the census.” About the proportion of Christians he says Pope Shenouda’s “number cannot be correct, because Christians comprised six to seven percent of the Egyptian population at the time of the British occupation and the percentage is more likely to decrease than increase. Egypt’s population is 80 million this year, consequently it is impossible that the number of Christians is more than five million citizens," answered Hallūdah.
Michael Faris, “Churches became emigration centers,” Ṣawt al-Ummah in Arab West Report, Week 49, Art 33, December 1, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-49/33-churches-became-emigration-centers.
“What was published on some websites about the fact that almost 700,000 Copts have applied for emigration aroused reactions against the church accusing it of encouraging the youth to leave Egypt.
It is a fact that every church has a center that is responsible for receiving emigration applications with minimal fees. The number of Copts who want to emigrate surpasses the number of Muslim due to the encouragement Copts get from the church, which is keen to offer language classes at its centers (Editor: language classes are not just to prepare youth for emigration as it seems to be presented but language classes help youth generally to obtain better paid jobs). Young people who apply for emigration through the church said they do so because they trust the religious foundation and how it is welcomed abroad especially after the September 11 attacks.
Georgette Qillīnī, Member of Parliament, said that the desire to emigrate is not limited to Christians alone. An evidence for this, she added, is that the number of Muslims in New York exceeds that of Christians.”
Cornelis Hulsman, “Interview with Dr. Philippe Fargues about Coptic Statistics,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 7, December 20, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/17-interview-dr-philippe-fargues-about-coptic-statistics.
Interview with Dr. Philippe Fargues, a researcher and professor at the American University of Cairo, who has investigated the complicated issue of Christian statistics in Egypt. Fargues has no confidence of claims of Coptic leaders, including Pope Shenouda, about the proportion of Christians in Egypt since their claims are not verifiable and the church has no structure to do proper population research.
Cornelis Hulsman, “Interview with Samih Fawzi about Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 8, December 20, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/18-interview-s257mih-fawz299-about-muslim-christian-relations-egypt.
“We lack empirical studies, deep interviews, studies on the Egyptian community, Christian Egyptian communities outside, to know precisely why they emigrated there. Did they emigrate for economic reasons or for religious reasons or political reasons?”
MN (May 2012): Or most likely a mix?
Cornelis Hulsman, “Interview with Dr. Amin Makram ‘Ubayd about addressing fanaticism,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 16, December 20, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/16-interview-dr-am299n-makram-cubayd-about-addressing-fanaticism.
Dr. Amin Makram argues that the Copts should serve the country by becoming the bridge between the Arab World and the West, which he says they should be blamed for not being. He makes a comparison to the Israel/Palestine conflict: “when the Palestinian problem arose when the Israeli state was created; the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis was a conflict between two peoples. It was one that had to do with nationalities. Unfortunately it has been gradually transformed into a religious war, Jews against Muslims and that is very sad so he (Charles Sennot author of the book: ‘The Body and the Blood’) made a comment that the number [of Christians] as calculated by the census of the Ottomans was 25% at the beginning of 20th century and it declined to somewhere between 2.5% and 5%.”
Muhammad Mazin, “Coptic lawyer calls for an international census for Copts and threatens to sue the government if it does not respond,” Al-Maydān in Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 65, December 24, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/65-coptic-lawyer-calls-international-census-copts-and-threatens-sue-government-if.
Coptic lawyer Mamdūh Nakhlah asked the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call for the help of an international institution to carry out a census of the number of Copts in Egypt. Māzin reports that the demand created considerable controversy amongst the Egyptian public due to the contradictions between the number declared by the church and that by the Egyptian government. Nakhlah declared that his demand seeks to put an end to the current controversy in this response (Editor: nonsense. Nakhlah is probably not aware of the work of researchers like Philippe Fargues who has checked the census figures of the CAPMAS).
The Coptic Orthodox Church has declared that Copts comprise 15.3 percent of the Egyptian population (about 15 million of Egypt’s 79 million people). However, the last census conducted by the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS, www.capmas.gov.eg/bohose_tabea_dept.htm) conducted in 2006 did not mention the demographic distribution of the different religions in Egypt. However, government sources assert that Copts comprise no more than 2.7 million, namely 3.45 per cent (Editor: where does this percentage come from? The CAPMAS figure is expected to be around 5,5%).
Bishop Marqus, head of the information office in the Coptic Orthodox Church, asserted that the church did not know about Nakhlah’s call, stating that the church rejects any Western interference in national issues. Bishop Marqus further declared that the church did not want to know the actual number of Copts and did not care about what the government declares in this response because the church knows the actual number of Copts through an “accurate” census conducted by the church itself.
Muhammad Munīr, founder of Egyptians Against Discrimination warned about the consequences of resorting to international help in this issue and stressed the importance of cooperation in civil society to bring about more effective ways to put pressure on officials to reveal the real number of Copts.
(Reviewer: Similar news was reported in Al-Fajr of December 22, 2008, p. 12)
Nader Shukry, “Never a culprit caught,” Watani International in Arab West Report, Week 52, Art 44, December 28, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/44-never-culprit-caught.
“The article provides a list of places in Egypt that have witnessed sectarian attacks against Copts in the last year. However even though the Egyptian Constitution promotes citizenship principles the rule of law seems to be largely absent when it comes to sectarian disputes.
The year 2008 witnessed no less than 20 incidents of sectarian violence. In one case only was a man convicted: Khamees Eid of Dafash, Minya, who was accused of murdering the Copt Milad Farag Ibrahim, was handed a suspended sentence of one year in prison despite the fact that he had admitted his crime.”
Cornelis Hulsman, “Disappointing report from the Religious Liberty Group of the World Evangelical Alliance,” Arab-West Report, Week 52, Art 5, December 31, 2008. URL: http://www.arabwestreport.info/year-2008/week-52/5-disappointing-report-religious-liberty-group-world-evangelical-alliance.
“We received this text which was published in the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, No. 499, Wed 08 Oct 2008, from Prof. Dr. Bernhard Reitsma of the Free University of Amsterdam with a request to respond.
RLPB: Most of Egypt’s 10 percent Christian minority are Copts, the indigenous people of Egypt.
CH: The statement is presented as if Copts are an ethnic group, which is wrong. The word Copt comes from the Greek Aegyptos, which means Egyptian. There are Orthodox Copts, Catholic Copts and Evangelical Copts. They are all Egyptians and are thus all Copts.
There is a tendency to associate the name Copt with Coptic Orthodox as though the Coptic Orthodox is the only Egyptian Christians and Catholics and Protestants are not.