How many Christians are there in Egypt?
There are just around 9.7 million Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt, comprising approximately nine per cent of the country’s population.
How are Christians persecuted in Egypt?
Christians in Egypt report that freedom of religion violations are mostly experienced in the community. Incidents vary from Christian women being harassed while walking in the street, to a mob of angry Muslims forcing a whole community of Christians to move out, leaving their houses and belongings to be confiscated. These sort of incidents take place mostly in Upper Egypt, where Salafist movements are active in the rural communities. The Islamic Salafi al-Nour party continues to exist and operate legally, although the Constitution prohibits religious parties. Their influence is considerable in rural societies where there is a high percentage of illiteracy and poverty.
President al-Sisi regularly speaks positively about Egypt’s Christian community. However, the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave them vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, especially in Upper Egypt. Communal hostility and mob violence, in particular, continue to cause difficulties. In addition, due to the dictatorial nature of the regime, it is futile for church leaders or other Christians to speak out against these practices.
Furthermore, in clear contrast to how mosques are dealt with, the building of new churches is restricted – despite promises from the president that churches in every neighbourhood will be legalised through official registration.
Christians with a Muslim background have great difficulties in living out their faith since they face enormous pressure from their families to return to Islam. The state also makes it impossible for them to get any official recognition of their conversion.
“The police said they wouldn’t let me go home to my sick son if I did not retract my complaint.”MERAL, WHO WAS ATTACKED FOR NOT WEARING ISLAMIC DRESS
What’s life like for Christians in Egypt?
Meral’s (name changed) story is one of many incidents of Christians being persecuted for their faith by members of the community – who can carry out these attacks with impunity.
When Meral’s son was ill, she didn’t hesitate in going to get medicine for him. “I hurried to the nearby pharmacy. I was dressed in a t-shirt covering half of my arms and didn’t wear a headscarf,” she says. “It was a normal outfit for Christian women in my area.”
But the pharmacist took issue with Meral’s outfit. “Even though he knows I am a Christian, he talked to me in a bad way and commented on my outfit: ‘How do you leave your hair uncovered and wear these clothes in Ramadan?’ he asked me,” remembers Meral. “I told him it was none of his business. Then he slapped me in the face two times and shouted insults at me.”
Meral knew the same pharmacist had done this to at least three other Christian women, so she decided to go to the police. “At the police station I reported what had happened. The police officer then called the pharmacist. The pharmacist admitted that he had indeed hit me twice, but he said he was ‘just joking’.”
The police tried to pressure her to withdraw the complaint, as did the pharmacist and the village mayor. “The police officer said they wouldn’t let me go home to my sick son if I did not retract my complaint. I still refused.” Eventually she was forced to sign a report – though she wasn’t allowed to read it. She later learned that it said the pharmacist was innocent of assault. As Meral concludes, “This is what a Christian, living in rural areas in Egypt, can face because of her Christian faith.”
Is it getting easier to be a Christian in Egypt?
Egypt has dropped 15 places in the World Watch List, mainly because there have been fewer reports of violence against Christians, including fewer faith-based killings and instances of properties being attacked. Even so, the level of violence against Christians is still very high. At least five Christians were killed last year, and more than 20 believers were attacked, among other reported incidents. In addition, a significant number of Christian converts from Islam have been arrested and physically abused by the Egyptian security services.
How can I help Christians in Egypt?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Egypt. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors works through local partners in Egypt to support the church with literacy training, education support, advocacy, medical outreach, and youth, family and women’s ministries.
Father God, please bring justice for our brothers and sisters who are deprived of their rights in Egypt. For those living in dangerous situations today, we pray for Your strength, courage, peace and protection. Empower your ancient church in Egypt to continue shining brightly and drawing many people to You, even in the midst of persecution. Amen.