Christianity is a minority religion in Egypt. Egyptian Christians, nearly all of whom are Copts (adherents of the Coptic Orthodox Church or other Coptic churches), most likely account for about 11% of the country's population, though different sources' estimates have ranged from 15% to 20%.[note 1]While a minority within Egypt, Egypt's Christian population is the largest in absolute numbers in the Middle East and North Africa. The history of Christianity in Egypt dates to the Roman era.Alexandria was an early center of Christianity.
The vast majority of Egyptian Christians are Copts. The word "Copt" is indirectly derived from the Greek Αἰγύπτιος Aigýptios meaning simply "Egyptian".
Over 95% of Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Church. The Coptic Church constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East and has approximately 4 to 8 million followers in Egypt, in addition to 1 to 2 million abroad, but no one really knows since there has never been a census. 10% is the generally accepted figure, but it may be higher. The actual number may be between 11-13 million according to an article cited in Coptic Christianity in Egypt. Other estimates of the ethnic Coptic population within Egypt range between 9 and 15 million. The Coptic Orthodox Church is headed by the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark, currently Pope Theodoros II. Affiliated sister churches are located in Armenia, Ethiopia,Eritrea, India, Lebanon and Syria.
Other native Egyptian Christians are adherents of the Coptic Catholic Church, the Coptic Evangelical Church and various Coptic Protestant denominations. Non-native Christian communities are largely found in the urban regions ofAlexandria and Cairo, and are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Latin Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Maronite Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, theChaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, or the Syriac Orthodox Church. Scattered among the various churches are a number of believers in Christ from a Muslim background. A 2015 study estimates some 14,000 such believers in Egypt.
Egyptian Christians believe[who?] that the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded byMark the Evangelist around AD 33, and Christianity entered Egypt because of [Mark the Evangelist]
By AD 300 it is clear[why?] that Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres. The Christian apologists Clement of Alexandria and Origen both lived part or all of their lives in that city, where they wrote, taught, and debated.
With the Edict of Milan in 313, Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians. Over the course of the 4th century, paganism was suppressed and lost its following, as the poet Palladius bitterly noted. Graffiti at Philae in Upper Egypt proves[why?] worship of Isis persisted at its temples into the 5th century. Many Egyptian Jews also became Christians, but many others refused to do so, leaving them as the only sizable religious minority in a Christian country.
Alexandria became the centre of the first great schism in the Christian world, between the Arians, named for the Alexandrian priest Arius, and their opponents[who?], represented by Athanasius, who became Archbishop of Alexandria in 326 after the First Council of Nicaea rejected Arius's views. The Arian controversy caused years of riots and rebellions throughout most of the 4th century. In the course of one of these, the great temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism, was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the Church.
Under Muslim rule, the ethnic Copts were cut off from the main stream of Christianity, and were compelled to adhere to the Pact of Umar covenant. They were assigned to Dhimmi status. Their position improved dramatically under the rule ofMuhammad Ali in the early 19th century. He abolished the Jizya (a tax on non-Muslims) and allowed ethnic Copts to enroll in the army. Pope Cyril IV, 1854–61, reformed the church and encouraged broader Coptic participation in Egyptian affairs. Khedive Isma'il Pasha, in power 1863–79, further promoted the Copts. He appointed them judges to Egyptian courts and awarded them political rights and representation in government. They flourished in business affairs.Some ethnic Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions. Two significant cultural achievements include the founding of the Coptic Museum in 1910 and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954. Some prominent Coptic thinkers from this period are Salama Moussa, Louis Awad and Secretary General of the Wafd PartyMakram Ebeid.In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser led some army officers in a coup d'état againstKing Farouk, which overthrew the Kingdom of Egypt and established a republic.Nasser's mainstream policy was pan-Arab nationalism and socialism. The ethnic Copts were severely affected by Nasser's nationalization policies, though they represented about 10–20% of the population. In addition, Nasser's pan-Arab policies undermined the Copts' strong attachment to and sense of identity about their Egyptian pre-Arab, and certainly non-Arab identity which resulted in permits to construct churches to be delayed along with Christian religious courts to be closed.