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Egypt - Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law) are the primary source of legislation. Religious fervor increased among all social classes after Egypt's defeat in the June 1967 War. Pious individuals commonly blamed Egypt's lack of faith for the country's setbacks. The resurgence in public worship and displays of devotion persisted in the late 1980s. A relaxation of press censorship in 1974 stimulated the growth of religious publications. The status of respect for religious freedom by the Government has declined, based on the failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of increased incidents of sectarian violence.

The country has an area of 370,308 square miles and a population of 83 million, of whom almost 90 percent are Sunni Muslims. Shi'a Muslims constitute significantly less than 1 percent of the population. The country's Jewish community numbers approximately 125, mostly senior citizens. The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons.

Estimates of the percentage of Christians ranged from 8 to 12 percent (6 to 10 million), the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox Church was headquartered in Alexandria, where most of its members lived. Most members of the Greek Orthodox were of Greek origin, but followers also included Arabs, Armenians, and the affiliated Coptic Orthodox Church. Other Christian communities include the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) churches that range in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The Catholics embraced seven distinct rites that Rome historically authorized to use languages other than Latin as integral parts of their liturgies. Approximately 85 percent of all Catholics in Egypt belonged to the Coptic Catholic Church. Other Catholics included followers of the Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Latin, Maronite, and Syrian rites.

There were also numerous Protestant churches. The government suspended the Anglican Church in 1958 after the Anglo-French occupation of the Suez Canal but permitted it to resume functioning in 1974. The Anglican Church in Egypt was part of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Other Protestant churches included the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, and the Coptic Evangelical Church. A Protestant (known in Arabic as "ingili" or evangelical) community, established in the middle of the 19th century, includes 16 Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal (Anglican), Baptist, Brethren, Open Brethren, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), Faith (Al-Eyman), Church of God, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal Al-Masihi), Apostolic, Grace (An-Ni'ma), Pentecostal, Apostolic Grace, Church of Christ, Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), and the Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala)). There are also followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960s. There are 800 to 1,200 Jehovah's Witnesses and small numbers of Mormons, but the Government does not recognize either group. Christians are dispersed throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians is higher in Upper Egypt (the southern part of the country) and some sections of Cairo and Alexandria. There are many foreign religious groups, especially Roman Catholics and Protestants, who have had a presence in the country for almost a century. These groups engaged in education, social, and development work.

Although there are no statutory prohibitions on conversion, the Government does not recognize conversions of Muslims to Christianity or other religions, and resistance to such conversions by local officials--through refusal to recognize conversions legally--constitutes a prohibition in practice. The security services reportedly maintain regular and sometimes hostile surveillance of Muslim-born citizens who are suspected of having converted to Christianity. Moreover, in January 2008 the Cairo Administrative Court, a court of first impression, ruled that freedom to convert does not extend to Muslim citizens. It stated that the freedom to practice religious rites is subject to limits, especially the maintenance of public order, public morals, and conformity to the provisions and principles of Islam, which forbid Muslims to convert.

The application of family law, including marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial, is based on an individual's religion. In the practice of family law, the Government recognizes only the three "heavenly religions," Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to Shari'a, Christian families to canon law, and Jewish families to Jewish law. In cases of family law disputes involving a marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man, the courts apply Shari'a. The Government does not recognize the marriages of citizens adhering to religions other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

Under Shari'a as practiced in the country, non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying Christian men. Under Shari'a as interpreted by the Government, a non-Muslim wife who converts to Islam must divorce her non-Muslim husband. In some cases, upon the wife's conversion, local security authorities reportedly ask the non-Muslim husband if he is willing to convert to Islam; if he chooses not to, divorce proceedings may begin immediately and custody of children is awarded to the mother.

Anti-Semitic sentiments appeared in both the Government-owned and opposition press; however, there have been no violent anti-Semitic incidents in recent years. Anti-Semitic articles and opinion pieces appeared in the print media, and editorial cartoons in the press and electronic media. Anti-Semitism in the media continued, although it was less prevalent than in recent years. Anti-Semitic editorial cartoons and articles depicting demonic images of Israeli leaders, stereotypical images of Jews and Jewish symbols that generally referenced Israel or Zionism, and comparisons of Israeli leaders to Hitler and the Nazis were published throughout 2009.

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