People and Society, Religion
Coptic Christians, Al Minya, Coptic Church, Armenian Catholic, Copts
Islam is the official religion of Egypt. According to the 1986 census, 94 percent of all Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. The largest religious minority consists of Coptic Christians, most of whom are members of the Coptic Church, officially called the Coptic Orthodox Church. Other Christian communities include Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Greek and Armenian Catholic, and several Protestant denominations whose members are mainly resident foreigners. Many Copts and others believe that official estimates undercount Christians and that Christians actually constitute about 10 percent of the population. Historically there was a small, but socially and economically significant, Jewish population. Most of that community left the country after the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which the combined forces of Israel, France, and Britain attacked Egypt.
Beginning in the 1980s, Islamic militants belonging to the Islamic Group (al-Gama`a al-Islamiyya) and Islamic Jihad were active, particularly in the Upper Egyptian provinces of Asyut and Al Minya. In 1992 they began a campaign of armed violence, centered in Cairo and Upper Egypt, with the goal of establishing a government based on strict Islamic law. The victims of their violence included Copts, government officials, and tourists.
Human rights organizations and others have claimed that the Egyptian government discriminates against Copts or turns a blind eye to their persecution by the Islamic militants. The government denies these charges, but nevertheless, Copts are subject to some restrictions. For example, they must receive permission from government authorities to build new churches or to repair existing ones.
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