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ICC Note: Although the official number of Christians living in Egypt is considered a state secret, Egypt is home to the largest number of believers living in the Middle East. Coptic Christians have suffered greatly for their faith. They are harassed and discriminated against by both the authorities and the community. They are also regularly targeted by Islamic extremists who seek to close their churches and commit acts of violence against Christians.

06/18/2018 Egypt (Coptic Solidarity) –  The Copts of Egypt are over 10 million strong and have lived in the country as Christians for two millennia. They are the largest Christian and largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East.

The history of Egyptian Christianity predates that of Islam. Coptic Orthodox Christianity started in the first century when the first church was established in the city of Alexandria. By the fourth century, Alexandria and its popes had emerged as one of the leading pillars of Christendom.

After the seventh century Islamic conquest, however, Egypt has become Islamized and Arabized and Arabic gradually replaced the Coptic language. Slowly the country lost its Christian majority as Copts converted to Islam.

In the eleventh century, Pope Christodolos was forced to move the seat of the papacy to Cairo, which had eclipsed Alexandria as Egypt’s largest city.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is today led by Pope Tawadros II, elected in November 2012. The 118th Coptic pope, he succeeded the late Pope Shenouda III.

Egyptians who have remained Christians today consider themselves the original Egyptians with Pharaonic origin. Thus some Coptic intellectuals argue that Coptic culture is largely derived from pre-Christian culture, and precedes not just Islam but Christianity as well. It gives the Copts a claim to a deep heritage in Egyptian history and culture.

Nonetheless, Christian religious symbols are a means of identity expression for Copts, and the cultural development that distinguishes them from Egyptian Muslims has constructed a Coptic ethnicity.

Some ethnic Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions in the late 19th century. Many became prominent in business.

However, things took a turn for the worse after Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy ad established a socialist republic after 1952.

Copts were severely affected by Nasser’s nationalization policies, and his pan-Arab ideology undermined the Copts’ strong attachment to Egypt and their sense of identity as pre-Arab Egyptians.

Discriminatory state policies and political violence have historically marginalized Copts, particularly in many cities of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta area.

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