Egypt had a majority Christian population up until the Arab conquest of 641 when Islam became the country's dominant religion. In 1980, Shariah (Islamic) law became the principal source of legislation, with persecution of Christians most prevalent in Upper Egypt. While the constitution of 2014 guarantees freedom of religion, in practice, religious conversion is prohibited through societal and familial pressure.
Recent attacks indicate that antagonism towards Christianity has grown. The 2017 Palm Sunday attack in the Nile Delta killed more than 40 people and injured over 100 others. Claiming responsibility for the attack was the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.1 The incident was the deadliest since the December 2016 attack on St. Mark's cathedral in Cairo, resulting in the tragic loss of many innocent lives -- mostly women and children.
Muslim background believers face especially difficult challenges when they convert, usually experiencing ostracization by their family and community. While official government statistics indicate that Christianity is practised by 12.8 percent of the country's total population, Christian leaders believe that -- with the inclusion of converts from Islam -- the total number is estimated to be closer to 20 percent. Members of the Christian community who plan to build churches are required to obtain official approvals which can take considerable time to be granted.
Since 2011, there has been an increase in blasphemy charges, revealing that the majority of those sentenced to prison terms are Christians. With a surge in the kidnapping of Christian women for forced marriages and conversion, Christian females are particularly vulnerable. To avoid this from occurring, many of them change their names to be less recognizably Christian.
Although the historic Coptic Christian community of Egypt has been tolerated through Egypt's various administrations, attacks have increased since Morsi's removal from office in July 2013. Additionally, blasphemy cases brought against Christians have also been on the rise. While there is no definitive criminal code in Egypt against "evangelism," Christians have been accused of blasphemy for participating in evangelistic activities.
In July of 2015, during Ramadan, three Christians distributing complimentary bags of dates -- along with notes containing the "Sermon on the Mount" message -- were arrested for "showing disdain or contempt for Islam." While all three were later released, members of the Christian community consider this case to be an example of the growing misappropriation of Egyptian law against Christians.