Persecution of Coptic Orthodox Christians

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Coptic Orthodox Christians have cited instances of persecution throughout their history, while Human Rights Watch has noted "growing religious intolerance" and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, and a failure by the Egyptian government to effectively investigate properly and prosecute those responsible.[1][2]

Coptic Orthodox Christians are native Egyptian Christians who currently make up around 10% of the population of Egypt[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][note 1][note 2] — the largest religious minority of that country.

Roman era

By the end of the 4th century, it is estimated that the majority of Egyptians had either embraced Christianity or were nominally Christian.[12]

In 451 A.D., following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Alexandria was divided into two branches. Those who accepted the terms of the Council became known as Chalcedonians or Melkites. Those who did not abide by the Council's terms were labeled non-Chalcedonians or Monophysites (and later Jacobites after Jacob Baradaeus).[note 3]

The majority of the Egyptians belonged to the Monophysite branch, which led to their persecution by the Byzantines, until the Arab conquest.

Islamic era

The Arab-Muslim invasion of Egypt

The Muslim invasion of Egypt took place in AD 639. In 646 AD Alexandria was recaptured by the Muslim Arabs after a Byzantine attempt to retake Egypt failed, ending nearly ten centuries of Greco-Roman civilization in Egypt.

Despite the political upheaval, Egypt remained a mainly Christian land, although the gradual conversions to Islam over the centuries changed Egypt from a mainly Christian to a mainly Muslim country by the end of the 12th century.[13]

This process was sped along by persecutions during and following the reign of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (reigned AD 996–1021) and the Crusades, and also by the acceptance of Arabic as a liturgical language by the Pope of Alexandria Gabriel ibn-Turaik (ca.1131-1145 AD).[13][note 4]

Modern era

In Egypt the government does not officially recognize conversions from Islam to Christianity. In addition, certain interfaith marriages are not allowed either, which prevents marriages between converts to Christianity and those born in Christian communities, and also results in the children of Christian converts being classified as Muslims and given a Muslim education.

The government also requires permits for repairing churches or building new ones, which are often withheld.[14]

Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing.

In 2010, Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote a piece for the Gatestone Institute named "What About The Arab Apartheid?" in which he criticized the treatment of Christians in Egypt and the failure of Egyptian authorities to prosecute those who have committed crimes against Egyptian Christians.[15]

Sectarian attacks since 1970

The last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first have seen a deterioration in relations between Muslims and the Coptic minority in Egypt. This is seen in day-to-day interactions such as the insulting of Coptic priests by Muslim children, but also in much more serious events such as attacks on Coptic churches, monasteries, villages, homes and shops, particularly in Upper Egypt during the 1980s and 90s. From 1992 to 1998 Islamist extremists in Egypt are thought to have killed 127 Copts.[16]

By the end of the 1990s, in Minya province "an ancient center of the Coptic faith", five churches, two charity organizations, and 38 mostly Christian-owned businesses had been burned. Witnesses described the destruction as having been carried out "by gangs of young Muslims wielding iron bars and Molotov cocktails and shouting God is Great!"[17] The police have been accused of siding with the attackers in some of these cases.[18]

In Southern Egypt, there were problems involving terrorists going into monasteries, harassing, capturing and torturing monks, such as the 2008 attacks on the monks of the Monastery of Saint Fana.[note 5]

Some observers have connected the robberies, extortion and "collection" of "taxes" from Copts to the belief by Islamists that the traditional Jizya poll tax on non-Muslims should be reinstituted. Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhur expressed this belief in a 1997 interview. He also stated that while "we do not mind having Christians members in the People's Assembly [national legislature]...the top officials, especially in the army, should be Muslims since we are a Muslim country," and Christians can not be trusted to fight for Egypt against Christian foreigners.[19] Statements by the Muslim Brotherhood and Sadat further exacerbated the situation of non-Muslims, namely the Copts.[20]

In 1981, President Anwar Sadat, internally exiled the Coptic Pope Shenouda III accusing him of fomenting interconfessional strife. Sadat then chose five Coptic bishops and asked them to choose a new pope. They refused, and in 1985 President Hosni Mubarak restored Pope Shenouda III.

In May 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported increasing "waves of mob assaults" by Muslims against Copts, forcing many Christians to flee their homes.[2] Despite frantic calls for help, the police typically arrived after the violence was over.[2] The police also coerced the Copts to accept "reconciliation" with their attackers, to avoid prosecuting them, and with no Muslims convicted for any of the attacks.[2]

Abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women

Coptic women and girls are sometimes abducted, and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.[21][22] In 2009 the Washington, D.C. based group Christian Solidarity International published a study of the abductions and forced marriages and the anguish felt by the young women because returning to Christianity is against the law.[23]

In April 2010, a bipartisan group of 17 members of the U.S. Congress expressed concern to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office about Coptic women who faced "physical and sexual violence, captivity...exploitation in forced domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation, and financial benefit to the individuals who secure the forced conversion of the victim."[21]

2011 Egyptian Revolution

Time Magazine reported on the fears of the Coptic population after the 2011 Egyptian revolution.[24] The New York Times reported on an increase in sectarian violence against Copts after President Hosni Mubarak's downfall, with an estimated 24 dead, 200 injured and three churches in flames.[25]

Egyptian Council of Churches

On Monday February 18th 2013, a monumental in shift occured in the modern history of Egyptian Christianity, as the heads of the five largest Christian denominations in Egypt — the Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Coptic, Greek Melkite, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean, Armenian and Latin), Protestant, and Anglican churches — united to create Egypt's first Council of Churches.[26][27] In addition to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, also present were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria, and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak. Their goal is to unify all Christians to face the challenge of a country dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Chronology of Persecution

  • 1981 - June - 81 Copts were killed by a mob of Muslims. Interior Minister Abu Pasha blamed the deaths on a lack of adequate security measures, for which his predecessor Ennabawy Ismael was responsible (according to Abu Pasha).[28]
  • 1981 - November 17 - Coptic priest the Reverend Maximose Guirguis is kidnapped and threatened with death he does not denounce his Christianity and publicly convert to Islam. He refuses and his throat is cut leaving him bleeding to death.[28]
  • 1991 - September 20 - Muslim mob attacks Copts in Embaba, an outer suburb of Cairo.[28]
  • 1992 - March 9 - Manshiet Nasser, Dyroot, Upper Egypt. Copt son of a farmer Badr Abdullah Massoud is gunned down after refusing to pay a tax of about $166 to the local leader of Islamic Group. Massoud's body is then hacked "with knives."[29]
  • 1992 - May 4 - Villages of Manshia and Weesa in Dyroot, Upper Egypt. After being Manshiet Naser's Christians for weeks, an Islamic extremist methodically shoots 13 of them to death. Victims included ten farmers and a child tending their fields, a doctor leaving his home for work, and an elementary school teacher giving a class.[29]
  • 1992 - May 12 - A bloodshed in Manfaloot, Upper Egypt, on the Coptic Easter day with 6 Copts murdered and 50 injured, followed by some 200 arrests.[28]
  • 1992 - October 15-16 - Muslim mob attacks with burning and looting of shops and 42 houses owned by Christian Copts, with 3 Copts injured and the destruction of an estimated 5 Million pounds of property, live stock, merchandise and work places Kafr Demian in Sharqueyya in the Nile Delta.[28]
  • 1992 - December 2 - Muslim mob attacks Copts in the city of Assiut, Upper Egypt.[28]
  • 1992 - December - Muslim mob attacks Copts in the Village of Meer, Al Quosseya, Upper Egypt, murdering four Copts and slitting the throat of a Coptic jeweller for refusing to pay protection money.[28]
  • 1997 - March 13 - Muslim mob attacks a Tourist Train with Spanish Tourists, killing 13 Christians and injuring 6, in the Village of Nakhla near Nag Hammadi. The terrorists increased the frequency of their attacks and widened it to include those whom they viewed as collaborators with the security force, launching an attack on the eve of the Adha Eid using automatic weapons killing Copts as well as Muslims.[28]
  • 1997 - Abu Qurqas - "Three masked terrorist" entered St. George Church in Abu Qurqas and shot dead eight Copts at a weekly youth group meeting. "As the attackers fled, they gunned down a Christian farmer watering his fields."[30]
  • 2000 - January - Kosheh Martyrs. Al Kosheh, a "predominantly Christian town" in southern Egypt. After a Muslim customer and a Christian shoe-store owner fall into an argument, three days of rioting and street fighting erupt leaving 20 Christians, (including four children) and one Muslim dead." In the aftermath 38 Muslim defendants are charged with murder in connection with the deaths of the 20 Copts. But all are acquitted of murder charges, and only four are convicting of any (lesser) charges, with the longest sentence given being 10 years." After a protest by the Coptic Pope Shenouda the government granted a new trial.[31]
  • 2000 - November 19 - Muslim mob attempt to force a Copt to pronounce the Islamic faith declarations (Shehadas) then beat him to death when he refuses their demand.[28]
  • 2001 - February/April - International Christian Concern reported that in February 2001, Muslims burned a new Egyptian church and the homes of 35 Christians; and that in April 2001 a 14-year-old Egyptian Christian girl was kidnapped because her parents were believed to be harboring a person who had Religious converted from Islam to Christianity.[32]
  • 2009 - April 19 - A group of Muslims: (Mahmoud Hussein Mohamed (26 years old), Mohamed Abdel Kader (32 years old), Ramadan Fawzy Mohamed (24 years old), Ahmed Mohamed Saeed (16 years old), and Abu Bakr Mohamed Saeed) opened fire at Christians on Easter's Eve killing two, Hedra Adib (22 years old) and Amir Estafanos (26 years old), and injuring another (Mina Samir (25 years old)). This event was in Hegaza village, Koos city. On February 22, 2010, they were sentenced to 25 years of jail.[33]
  • 2010 - January 6 - Nag Hammadi massacre - Machine gun attack by Muslim mob on Coptic Christians celebrating the Egyptian Birth of Christ. Seven are killed (including a Muslim officer in his trial to defend them) and scores injured, and lots of lives ruined.
  • 2010 - April/May - In Marsa Matrouh, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the city's Coptic Christian population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.[2]
  • 2011 - January 1 (On New Year's Eve) - 2011 Alexandria bombing. A car bomb exploded in front of an Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Church killing at least 21 and injuring at least 79. The incident happened a few minutes after midnight as Christians were leaving a New Year's Eve Church service. It has been later thought that the previous corrupt minister of interior was behind the attacks in an attempt to cause strife between the Egyptian people.[34][35][36]
  • 2011 - January 11 - A mentally deranged member of the police force opened fire in a train in Samalout station in Minya province resulting in the death of a 71-year old man and injury of 5 others.
  • 2011 - March 5 - A church was set on fire in Sole, Egypt by a group of Muslim men angry that a Muslim woman was romantically involved with a Christian man. Many Christian residents of Sole fled the village, with the remainder "living in fear". Large groups of Copts then proceeded to hold major protests stopping traffic for hours in vital areas of Cairo.[24][37]
  • 2011 - April - After the death of two Muslims on April 18, sectarian violence broke out in the southern Egyptian town of Abu Qurqas El Balad, in Minya Governorate, 260 km south of Cairo. One Christian Copt was killed, an old woman was thrown out of her second floor balcony and ten Copts were hospitalized. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock were plundered and torched. Minya is well known for its ancient customs of tribal loyalty – if a member of a clan kills someone from another clan or family, the victim's family feel obliged to avenge their relative's death. The government has been trying to prevent such tribal behaviour. Rumors spread throughout Abu Qurqas of many strangers and of trucks loaded with weapons coming into the village to carry out the threats during Easter week. The terrorized Christian villagers sent pleas everywhere, asking for protection, even to Coptic groups in Europe and the U.S.[38]
  • 2011 - May 7 - A dispute started over claims that several women who converted to Islam had been abducted by the church and were being held against their will in St. Mary Church of Imbaba, Giza; it ended in violent clashes that left 15 dead, among whom were Muslims and Christians, and roughly 55 injured. Eyewitnesses confirmed the church was burnt by thugs [not Salafis] who are not from the neighborhood, as confirmed by the committee of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). Copts converting to Islam are usually advised by the police to take out restraining orders against their families as the Coptic community does not tolerate converts to Islam. These incidents have fueled strife and problems between Copts and Muslims as in the famous case of Camelia.[39]
  • 2011 - May - Copts in Maspero, Cairo are attacked during protests, one dies. Certain churches start distributing flyers allegedly written by Islamists. It is later found that some Copts were distributing the flyers to damage the image of Islamists in local media. The Church later apologized.
  • 2011 - May 18 - The Coptic Church obtained permission in January to turn a garment factory bought by the church in 2006, into a church in the neighbourhood of Ain Shams, of Cairo. However, angry Muslim mobs attacked the church and scores of Copts and Muslims were arrested for the disturbance. On Sunday May 29, an Egyptian Military Court sentenced two Coptic Christians to five years in jail each for violence and for trying to turn a factory into an unlicensed church.[40]
  • 2011 - October 9 - Maspero demonstrations - Thousands of Coptic Christians took to the streets in Cairo to protest the burning of a church in Marinab and were headed towards Maspiro, where they were met with armoured personnel carrier, APCs, and hundreds of riot police and special forces. Army vehicles charged at the protesters and reports of at least 6 protesters being crushed under APCs, including one with a crushed skull, has emerged. In addition, witnesses have confirmed that military personnel were seen firing live ammunition into the protesters, while the Health Ministry confirmed that at least 20 protesters have undergone surgery for bullet wounds.[41] In total, an estimated 24 persons were killed most of whom are Copts,[42] while numbers as high as 36 and 50 were reported, including unconfirmed reports of the death of three army soldiers. The number of wounded protesters was estimated to be 322, of whom about 250 were transported to hospitals.[43] Inciting more unrest, messages were broadcasted on Egyptian national television urging "honest Egyptians" to take to the streets to "protect the military" from Christian protesters. As a result, hundreds of people, presumably Muslim extremists, were seen wielding clubs and machetes alongside riot police chanting "the people want to bring down the Christians", and later "Islamic, Islamic".[41] The events came against the backdrop of tensions simmering due to the violent military breakup of a sit-in staged at Maspiro by Coptic demonstrators a few days earlier, to protest the burning of the church of Marinab in the Governorate of Aswan by the Salafis of the region.
  • 2012 - August - Dahshour's entire Christian community, which some estimate to be as many as 100 families and includes Coptic Christians, fled to nearby towns due to sectarian violence. The violence began in a dispute over a badly ironed shirt, which in turn escalated into a fight in which a Christian burned a Muslim to death, which in turn sparked a rampage by angry Muslims, while the police failed to act. At least 16 homes and properties of Christians were pillaged, some were torche, and a church was damaged during the violence.[44]
  • 2013 - July-August - Christian churches in Egypt under worst attack in years:[45]
  • Fifty places of worship were looted and torched in just three days following the dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood camps; a total of 30 Orthodox Coptic churches, 14 Catholic churches and monasteries, and six Protestant prayer houses have been burned.
  • Churches in Minya province had to cancel Sunday Mass for the first time in 1,600 years.
  • Attackers also targeted three religious societies, three key bookshops belonging to the Bible Society, three Christian schools, and an orphanage.
  • Coptic leaders blame the Brotherhood for the attacks, adding that such a violent onslaught against Christians has never happened before in Egypt.

See also



  1. "Estimates of the size of Egypt's Christian population vary from the low government figures of 6 to 7 million to the 12 million reported by some Christian leaders. The actual numbers may be in the 9 to 9.5 million range, out of an Egyptian population of more than 60 million." (Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. Retrieved Oct-10-2008)
  2. "...Coptic Christians, who make up an increasingly beleaguered 10% minority, see little difference between rival Islamists." (Political Islam: Everywhere on the rise. The success of Egypt’s Islamists marks a trend throughout the region. The Economist. Dec 10th 2011.)
  3. However the non-Chalcedonians reject the term Monophysite as erroneous and insist on being called Miaphysites.
  4. * ca.1131-45 Coptic Pope of Alexandria Gabriel II initiated the addition of Arabic as a liturgical language, with his Arabic translation of the Liturgy.
  5. On May 31, 2008, monks and Christians close to the Monastery of Saint Fana reported that monks' cells and a church belonging to the monastery had been attacked by a group of roughly sixty armed Arabs, a name commonly used in Egypt for Bedouins who have settled in villages bordering the desert.
  6. After the beheadings, their church released their names, but there were only 20 names. The 21st Martyr was originally a non-Christian from Chad. He saw the immense faith of his friends. When the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said "Their God is my God", knowing that he would be killed.


  1. Egypt and Libya: A Year of Serious Abuses. Human Rights Watch. January 24, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Moheb Zaki. "Egypt's Persecuted Christians: Violence against Copts is on the rise and all but Ignored by the State." The Wall Street Journal. May 18, 2010
  3. Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population. The 2009 American Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Pew Research Center, October 2009. 62pp. (pdf)
  4. (Arabic)
    "Institut National Etudes Démographiques" – Research in population and demography of France estimates the Coptic population to be. Asharq Retrieved: 2012-09-18.
  5. Egypt: The World Factbook. American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). September 10, 2012.
  6. Khairi Abaza and Mark Nakhla. The Copts and Their Political Implications in Egypt. Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Policy #1039, October 25, 2005.
  7. Adam Morrow. EGYPT: Attacks Raise Fear of Religious Discord. Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS). Apr 24 2006.
  8. Youssef M. Ibrahim. Muslims' Fury Falls on Egypt's Christians. The New York Times. March 15, 1993.
  9. Kenneth Chan. Thousands Protest Egypt's Neglect of Coptic Persecution. The Christian Post. December 7, 2004.
  10. U.S. Relations With Egypt; Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Fact Sheet. United States Department of State. August 22, 2012.
  11. Egypt. Foreign and Commonwealth Office - UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 27 February 2012.
  12. Jankowski, James. Egypt: A Short History. One World (Oxford), 2000. p.32.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jill Kamil. Coptic Egypt: History and Guide. Cairo: American University in Cairo, 1997.
  14. Egypt. Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Retrieved September 18, 2012. (see drop-down essay on "Religious Freedom in Egypt")
  15. Khaled Abu Toameh. What About The Arab Apartheid? Part II. Gatestone Institute. March 23, 2010 at 5:00 am.
  16. U.S. State Department annual reports on "Human Rights Practices in Egypt". Quoted in Caryle Murphy, Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience. 1st Edition. Scribner, October 1, 2002. p.329.
  17. Caryle Murphy. Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience. 1st Edition. Scribner, October 1, 2002. p.242.
  18. Funerals for victims of Egypt clashes. BBC News. 4 January, 2000, 04:24 GMT.
  19. Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashur talking to Khalid Daoud in an article printed in Al Ahram Weekly, July 5–9, 1997. Quoted in Caryle Murphy, Passion for Islam, pp.241,330.
  20. John L. Esposito, John O. Voll. Islam and Democracy. Oxford University Press, 1996. p.188.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Joseph Abrams. House Members Press White House to Confront Egypt on Forced Marriages. FOX News. April 21, 2010.
  22. Christian Minority under Pressure in Egypt. BBC News. 14:01 GMT, Friday, 17 December 2010.
  23. Angela Shanahan. No going back for Egypt's converted Copts. The Australian. May 21, 2011 12:00AM.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Rania Abouzeid. After the Egyptian Revolution: The Wars of Religion. Time Magazine. Thursday, Mar. 10, 2011.
  25. David Kirkpatrick. Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists. NY Times. May 30, 2011.
  26. Egypt’s Five Largest Denominations Unite for First Time. Christianity Today (Gleanings). February 22, 2013.
  27. A Council of Churches is set up to continue Christ's mission. 02/19/2013 17:46.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 28.5 28.6 28.7 28.8 (Arabic)
    Article by Nana Ameen published in “Modern Discussion”.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Caryle Murphy. Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience. 1st Edition. Scribner, October 1, 2002. pp.236-7.
  30. Caryle Murphy. Passion for Islam. p.242.
  31. Caryle Murphy. Passion for Islam. p.247,249.
  32. Copts Under Fire. The Free Lance-Star. November 23, 2002.
  33. Christians killed in Egypt feud. BBC News. 09:47 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 10:47 UK.
  34. Yolande Knell (Middle East specialist). Egypt bomb kills 21 at Alexandria Coptic church. BBC News. 1 January 2011 Last updated at 10:18 ET.
  35. Yasmine Saleh. Suspected suicide bomber kills 21 at Egypt church. Reuters. Sat Jan 1, 2011 6:32pm EST.
  36. Yolande Knell (Middle East specialist). Egypt's president calls for unity after church bombing. BBC News. 1 January 2011 Last updated at 15:28 ET.
  37. Ten dead after Copt-Muslim clash in Cairo. BBC News. 9 March 2011 Last updated at 08:41 ET.
  38. Mary Abdelmassih. Collective Punishment of Egyptian Christians For Death of Two Muslims. The Free Copts. April 26, 2011.
  39. David D. Kirkpatrick. Muslims and Coptic Christians Clash Again in Egypt. NY Times. May 15, 2011.
  40. Egypt sentences Copts over church scuffle. France 24. May 29, 2011.
  41. 41.0 41.1 David D. Kirkpatrick. Church Protests in Cairo Turn Deadly. NY Times. October 9, 2011.
  42. A Bloody Sunday in Cairo. The Economist. Oct 10th 2011, 16:00.
  43. Tamim Elyan and Shaimaa Fayed. Egypt Christians vent fury after clashes kill 25. Reuters. Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:55pm EDT.
  44. Sarah El Deeb. Riot Leaves an Egyptian Village Without Christians. YAHOO! News (AP). Aug 4, 2012.
  45. Christian churches in Egypt under worst attack in years. 22 August, 2013 11:08 AM.
  46. Coptic Church Recognizes Martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians. Vatican Radio. 21/02/2015 12:54.
  47. Angie Chui. 21 Christians slain by ISIS to be declared martyrs by coptic church. Christian Today. 01 March 2015.

External Links Keeping an Eye on the Coptic Issue.