Whenever the topic of "the number of Christians" in Egypt is brought up, I smell the scent of excitement and controversy, and my senses for conspiracy theories are activated. Among several sensitive topics in Egypt, the issue of "the number of Christians" in the country tops the list of taboos and prohibitions that are better left unexplored, whether politically or through media outlets.
There are also no recent official statistics on the number of Christians in Egypt. They are all just "estimates", either by some government agencies or international human rights institutions. But at the popular level, since we are a people who love the numbers game and the race for superiority, we search in order to find out who is the richest and which group has the most number of people. We are a people who take pride in the "majority," even if it is for the number of fans in a sports club who cannot even afford a match ticket in the stadium.
But what prompted Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to reopen the subject by saying, "The number of Christians in Egypt is 15 million, and 2 million are abroad," during a meeting with journalists covering Coptic affairs at the media center of the Coptic Orthodox Church last Saturday? Is it really that simple, your Holiness? Is the number correct, even though you made the same statement with the same numbers five years ago? Has the number not increased at all? It does not matter, for the number does not matter, and no one will count after the Pope. What matters is the timing of the statement that reminded me that the presidential election season in Egypt has begun. Despite His Holiness's confirmation in the same meeting that the Coptic Church, which is considered the oldest national institution in Egypt, does not interfere in politics and has never worked in it throughout its history, although all its projects serve the nation.
Sectarianism and discrimination are clearly evident to the Christian citizen in all his daily dealings with government officials, schools, and government universities, and Christians do not need anyone to remind them of this
The truth is that the number of Christians in Egypt is not mentioned among the "components of the nation" except when it comes to two matters; the first is during the elections, and the second is when talking about building new churches, which often happens following every sectarian crime that occurs due to the construction or renovation of a church. However, in the end, no one can confirm a specific number for the actual number of Egyptian Christians in the country, or any other group for that matter. The truth is that Egypt has a crisis when it comes to data and numbers that goes on and on. My father once said that the number of Christians in Egypt has joined the list of impossibilities, right under the phoenix and the ogre.
The last time there was talk of the political influence of the number of Christians in Egypt was during the June 30th Revolution in 2014, which ousted the late President Mohamed Morsi. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood group spread rumors among the public that the Christians were responsible for the departure of their president and the appointment of his deputy, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as the new ruler. Although the group and its supporters clung to the approximate number of just 5 million Copts in Egypt, according to a government statement in 2011, this provoked anger of the Copts in Egypt, and the issue turned into a battle. Just two years later, the minority and the five million Christians in Egypt were able to overthrow the president in 2013. Even today, the Islamist movement in Egypt deals with Christians the way it treats the simple Salafi citizen in the street, believing that the Christians in Egypt are the ones who overthrew their president and that their voices in elections are capable of controlling who governs Egypt. Nevertheless, no Christian deputy in the Egyptian People's Council has been able to win the seat through elections; all are appointed by the president himself as a superficial matter that fails those who come digging for discrimination and its forms.
It is certain that the number mentioned by Pope Tawadros, based on baptism certificates, absence records, and marriage certificates, is not accurate, whether it has increased or decreased. For example, there are Christians in Egypt who belong to sects other than the Orthodox, such as Evangelicals and Catholics. Did the number mentioned by the Pope include them too? And they are also in the millions by the way. Then, what is the benefit that may pertain to the Copts when it comes to knowing the true number of their population in Egypt? Will there be demands for fair representation in local, legislative, and judicial councils, university leaderships, and the national football team, based on their minority status in the millions? What are the rights that can be added to the Copts in Egypt in light of the strong and rosy relationship between the state and the church today, whether in building new churches or in the legislation of the new Personal Status Law for non-Muslims, and the Church’s unconditional support for the authority in Egypt all along?
The number of Christians in Egypt is not mentioned as something that is part of the nation except during the elections, and when talking about building new churches, which often happens following every sectarian crime due to the renovation of a church
The issue of the number of Christians in Egypt, whether it is five million or even 50 million, is irrelevant as long as the number remains ineffective in social and political life, and its strength and impact are only seen in matters related to directing the Church, which has always allowed them to live in its embrace, taken care of all their affairs and protects them from the evil of the outside world. What is the benefit of churches if there are no believers? What is the use of the mosques that no one enters? What is the benefit of millions if they accept living in the shadows and believe that they are a persecuted minority in an evil world that they prefer to stay away from?
There is another question about the Egyptian government's handling of the issue of the number of Copts in such a way that is full of caution and secrecy. What harm could be caused if the official authorities declared the number of Christians in Egypt, frankly and clearly? This has happened before in the sixties and seventies. While the Egyptian government always justifies that this type of statistics is partly sectarian and discriminatory, and that it prefers to avoid, despite the logic of this statement, it involves a clear disregard and neglect on the part of the state when it comes to dealing with the Coptic issue in Egypt with transparency, along with the fact that it still considers the number of Christians in Egypt a matter of national security.
Sectarianism and discrimination are clearly evident to the Christian citizen in all his daily dealings with government officials, schools, and government universities, and Christians do not need anyone to remind them of this.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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