Introduction to Coptic statistics

Arab-West Report, August, 2012

Title: Controversial Statistics: Articles from Egyptian Media Dealing with Coptic Representation in Egypt and Coptic Migration Statistic, 1997-2012

Author: Cornelis Hulsman, Mette Toft Nielsen, and Jenna Ferrecchia


The following list contains articles published in Arab-West Report (AWR) or referred to in AWR statistics of Christians in Egypt and Egyptian Christian migration. Some articles about migration on Christians from the Arab World have been added, but the main focus of this list is Egypt.



Statistics of Christians in Egypt are controversial. Coptic Christians repeatedly claim their numbers are substantially higher than the Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics (CAPMAS) provided until 1996. After 1996, the CAPMAS did not provide figures since the registration of religion is now done through the new computerized Egyptian ID cards. Those figures are kept in the Ministry of Interior and are not made public.


Metropolitan Bishoi told Cornelis Hulsman during an interview on November 2002 that Pope Shenouda had requested bishops to collect Coptic population data for years, but some have done so and others have not. On several occasions Hulsman has asked Bishop Yo’annis, secretary to the Pope, for figures only to be told that these were not available. In meetings between Hulsman and Bishops Agathon and Paphnotius in October 2011 he was told that they had not provided Pope Shenouda with figures from their dioceses thence far, but both were working on compiling statistics for their respectives dioceses, Maghagha and Samalut, both in the governorate of Minia.


The correct numbers of Christians are highly relevant in discussions about equality for Christians in Egyptian society especially concerning:


  • Equal representation of Christians in various positions in government and administration;

  • Church building;

  • Christian influence on the Egyptian society in general (education, media, etc.).


French scholar, Dr. Philippe Fargues shows in several of his studies that the proportion of Christians in Egypt is declining due to: 1) emigration, 2) Christians having smaller families than Muslims on average, and 3) conversion to Islam.




To create this list of relevant articles, sources were generated from the Arab-West Report database (AWR) by searching for articles containing the words: “Copt, statistics”; “Copt, migration”; “Migration”; “Census”; “Quota”; “Copt and Numbers”; “Coptic Population”; “Marginalization”; “Conversion”; “Coptic Representation”; and “Copt, Hulsman” as Cornelis Hulsman is one of the principle authors of many of the articles published. We also checked cross-references to related articles in the database.


In analyzing data from this list one has to be cautious. Many (but not all) journalists lack accuracy in their reporting. It is thus always needed to try to verify data as much as possible. Yet, this list is extremely interesting because it provides an excellent insight in the arguments in favor of higher or lower proportions of Coptic Christians.



Throughout the years we can distinguish a number of topics related to different periods in the discussions about the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt. These are:


  1. Media discussions about the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act in the U.S., advocating and opposing the right to interfere with non-Egyptian entities in religious freedom issues in Egypt, 1997-2001:


Discussions were raging about a proposal by Republicans with the support of religious liberty and mainly Coptic activists from the U.S. to enact a law obliging the U.S. government to monitor religious freedom in countries outside the U.S. Egyptians saw the proposed law as an unlawful intervention in internal relations in Egypt. Discussions led to a weakening of the original proposal, but the law was enacted in 1998. The discussion about this law has continued for years but has disappeared from media reporting, occurring now only in off-the-record meetings with Egyptian diplomats. The feeling that this law was doing injustice to Egypt has remained.


  1. Ongoing discussions about the proportion of Christians in Egypt, 2002-2007:


Bishop Bishoi suggested in 2002 to keep ten percent as a “guideline” for the proportion of Christians in Egypt. Pope Shenouda complained about the small proportion of Christians in top government positions but never provided figures. In 2006 Cornelis Hulsman and Elizabeth Yell, then editor at Arab-West Report, refer to oft-cited British author Patrick Johnston who, in 1993, provided a high proportion without references. Coptic authors Imad Basili and Kamal Zakhir Musáal also reject government figures, but present no references to the figures they claim. An article about the Conference of the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East does not provide figures but expresses fear for the mass migration of Copts because of the state. The German weekly Der Spiegel presents the proportion of Christians in Egypt and Syria as below 10 percent, but Melanie Erlebach, in this period international coordinator at Arab-West Report, argues that this proportion is still too high.


  1. Discussions following the census of 2006; 2007-2008:


Unlike previous years, when the first statistics following the 2006 census were published no information was included about the number of Christians in Egypt. This fact, and the statement of the Minister of Labor and Immigration in 2007 claiming 10 percent of Christians triggered discussions in various media.


  1. Discussions following Pope Shenouda stating Egypt counts 12 million Christians, 2008-2010:


Pope Shenouda stated in 2008 that Egypt counts 12 million Christians. This is the only known public statement that he has made with an actual number. Since Pope Shenouda, nor the church, has not provided any verifyable sources to back up this claim, it has resulted in much public debate.


  1. Discussions following the January 25, 2011 Revolution, including claims that large numbers of Coptic Christians are leaving the country, 2011-2012:


Debates on the proportion of Copts in Egypt have increased with claims of Coptic human rights lawyer Nabil Gibrail that 100,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt in about six months time following the Egyptian Revolution. Nabil Gibrail has not provided verifiable documents to back up his claims. Other Copts dispute his numbers and also his claims seem to be ideologically motivated.



The list is organized chronologically by date with an excerpt from the article indicating how it relates to numbers of Christians in Egypt. Papers relating to this topic are listed separately after the list of excerpts.


AWR works with a system of 52 weekly issues per year. Most articles are summary translations from articles in Arabic media. When these were placed in AWR they retained the date they were published in the concerned Arabic publication. But since articles were sometimes published later, the week of publication and the date of publication in some instances are not chronological. For this reason we have placed the articles in this list in chronological order according to the date mentioned on the articles in our database. We have provided the URL in this list for anyone who would like to see the full text in our database.


Prior to 2004, AWR did not mention the translator’s name in the article information for summary translations. Many of the articles cited in this list are summary translations published before 2004 and thus do not have a translator listed in their citations.


It is obvious from this list that standardizing the transliteration of Arabic names has been a major problem for AWR throughout the years. Efforts to standardize names have been made but had insufficient effect since translators in Egypt are not taught how to transliterate. Translators are also often not able to do this systematic because of the different pronunciations that exist of Arabic names. Because sometimes articles were taken from other publications names here were also not provided in a standardized spelling. The consequence is that in this list similar names may appear in different spellings.


Family names are very uncommon for Arabic names that usually follow a name-string system. For this reason names, both Arabic and Western, have been placed as name strings, not using the system of mentioning family name first and then first name(s) as is common in the West.


This document also contains articles dealing with subjects that fall outside the focus of the discussion about the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt but they provide information that are relevant in understanding the context of this discussion.


This list was made for students who want to study the debate about Coptic population statistics. Some comments have been made in the text on the media articles we have found. Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-Chief of AWR, has been adding comments in articles before they were placed online. These are either marked as “CH” or “editor”. He has added new comments in May 2012. These are marked as CH (May 2012). Mette Toft Nielsen also added comments in May 2012. These are marked as MN (May 2012). Other users are encouraged to send us their comments on specific articles and/or add articles or links to articles on this subject in our database. All such inquiries can be directed to:

 Articles with excerpts, divided by year.

Articles with excerpts, all years included (the document will be downloaded)

Papers 1997 - Present.

List of articles, without excerpts.