Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 99.4 million (July 2018 estimate). Most experts and media sources state that approximately 90 percent of the population is officially designated as Sunni Muslims and approximately 10 percent is recognized as Christian (estimates range from 5 to 15 percent). Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.
Other Christian communities together constitute less than 2 percent of the population and include Anglican/Episcopalian and other Protestant denominations, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Maronite, Latin, and Syrian), and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches. The Protestant community includes Apostolic Grace, Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal Al-Masihi), Church of Christ, Faith (Al-Eyman), Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), Grace (An-Ni’ma), Independent Apostolic, Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala), Open Brethren, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), and Seventh-day Adventist. Jehovah’s Witnesses account for 1,000-1,500 people, according to media estimates, and there are also an estimated 150 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the vast majority of whom are expatriates. Christians reside throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians is higher in Upper Egypt and in some sections of Cairo and Alexandria, according to religious and civil society groups.
Scholars estimate that Shia Muslims comprise approximately 1 percent of the population, or approximately 1,000,000. Baha’i representatives estimate the size of the community to be between 1,000 and 2,000. There are very small numbers of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and expatriate members of various groups.
According to a local Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO), there are seven Jews. There are no reliable estimates of the number of atheists or religious converts.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On November 2, armed assailants attacked three buses carrying Christian pilgrims to a monastery in Minya in Upper Egypt, killing seven and wounding 19. Media reported the attackers used automatic weapons to spray the buses indiscriminately, targeting men, women, and children. The local ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement. Media reported that ISIS repeatedly vowed to attack the country’s Christians as punishment for their support of the government. Following the attack, authorities stated they killed 19 individuals suspected of involvement in the assault in a shootout west of Minya. The government did not present evidence to link these individuals to the attack, and a local human rights activist argued these shootings might have constituted extrajudicial killings.
On January 14, armed assailants killed a man in North Sinai upon discovering he was Christian, according to press. Following a series of attacks against Christians in North Sinai that began in January 2017, more than 250 Christian families left the region, according to EIPR. Displaced families reported they remained unable to return to their homes.
On May 26, seven Christians were injured in the village of Shoqaf in Beheira while attempting to defend a church from an attack by Muslim villagers. The church had been used for religious services for three years, and had applied for a license in January 2017. According to the press, calls to attack the church had come from a nearby mosque. Police arrested 11 Muslims and nine Christians. All of those arrested were released following a customary reconciliation session, and the church remained open.
There were reported incidents of mob action against, and collective punishment of, Christians.
On January 17, Muslim villagers attacked the houses of three Christian families in the village of Al-Dawar in Beheira after a Christian man was accused of attempting to sexually assault a Muslim woman, according to press. Muslim villagers used stones and Molotov cocktails to attack local Christian property. Police arrested the Christian accused of sexual assault and two of his relatives, but none of the Muslim attackers. Following a customary reconciliation session attended by a number of parliamentarians, the village mayor and elders, it was agreed that the accused Christian would pay a fine and be expelled from the village.
In late August and early September local press reported Muslim residents of the village of Dimshaw Hashem in Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt protested Christian religious services held in an unlicensed church, and looted four Christian-owned houses before setting them on fire. The attack injured two Coptic villagers and a firefighter. Coptic Orthodox Bishop Macarius told the press numerous Christian villagers had informed local police about an imminent attack and that the police failed to take action. After the attack, police arrested and criminally charged multiple protesters, releasing them on September 27. EIPR subsequently criticized authorities for pressuring Copts to accept customary reconciliation in addressing the attacks. Referring to this case, Human Rights Watch stated that customary reconciliation “allows perpetrators to evade prosecution, while authorities offered no concrete future protections to the worshippers and their families.”
Similar to the previous year, the Coptic Orthodox Church refused to participate in government-sponsored customary reconciliation as a substitute to criminal proceedings to address attacks on Christians and their churches. However, customary reconciliation continued to take place without its participation. Human rights groups and Christian community representatives said that the practice constituted an encroachment on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship, and effectively precluded recourse to the judicial system. Human rights activists said that, as part of the process, Christians were regularly pressured to retract their statements and deny facts, leading to the dropping of charges.
Discrimination in private sector hiring continued, including in professional sports, according to human rights groups and religious communities. According to the press, the country’s participation in the World Cup highlighted the absence of Christian players from the national team and major club teams. The Christian community told the press clubs excluded Christian players from tryouts. Press reported there were no Christian players on the national soccer team for more than 15 years. A single Christian player played for one of the 18 top clubs the previous season. Coptic Pope Tawadros II told the press that the lack of Christians in Egyptian soccer was “extraordinary.”
Some religious leaders and media personalities continued to employ discriminatory language against Christians. In March exiled Salafi cleric Wagdi Ghoneim told the press senior officials who maintained good relations with Christians were kafirs (infidels). Dar Al-Iftaa condemned the statement, and said Ghoneim wrongly interpreted Islamic texts. Television preacher Abdullah Roshdi said that “It is prohibited for Muslims to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious occasions because it expresses support for practices that Islam considers to be acts of unbelief.” Dar al Iftaa and Al Azhar issued several fatwas permitting and encouraging Muslims to congratulate Christians on their holidays.
Reports of societal anti-Semitism continued. Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned TV endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and the economy, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). In a June interview on a state-owned channel, law professor Nabil Hilmi said, “Jews control the money and the media,” adding that they have a 50-year plan to reach Mecca and Medina.
In May Chair of the Hebrew Language Department at Menoufia University, Professor Amr Allam, said on a weekly show on a state-owned channel that “Israeli violence…is embedded in the Jewish genes.”
Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements continued in the wake of the December 2017 U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent move of the embassy to Jerusalem. According to a MEMRI report, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb blamed Israel for terrorism in the Middle East in a January interview on a state-owned channel. He described Israel as a “dagger plunged into the body of the Arab world,” and said that were it not for “Zionist entity abuse…the Middle East would have progressed.” He said Arab infighting worked to the advantage of Israel, which he claimed would “march on the Kaaba and on the Prophet’s Mosque [in Medina].”
In January Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church co-sponsored a conference addressing terrorism. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, secretary general of the Egyptian Family House, an Al-Azhar and Coptic Orthodox Church initiative created to send religious leaders to defuse community tensions following sectarian violence, called for religious scholars to challenge terrorism and include education to protect future generations from what he termed the mistaken ideas of extremism. He stated that all Muslims suffered from the consequences of terrorism.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The President discussed religious freedom and the treatment of Egypt’s Coptic community during his meeting with President al-Sisi during the UN General Assembly session in September. The Vice President discussed religious freedom issues during his visit to Cairo in January. Other U.S. government officials at multiple levels, including the Charge d’Affaires, and other Department of State, embassy, and consulate general officials, raised religious freedom concerns with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Awqaf, as well as with members of parliament, governors, and representatives of Islamic institutions, church communities, religious minority groups, and civil society groups. In their meetings with government officials, the Charge and other embassy and consulate general officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.
Throughout the year, embassy officers and visiting U.S. officials met with senior officials in the offices of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and bishops and senior pastors of Protestant churches. Issues raised included cases in which the government failed to hold the perpetrators of sectarian violence accountable and failed to protect victims of sectarian attacks; prosecuted individuals for religious defamation; and enabled religious discrimination by means of official religious designations including on national identity cards.
U.S. officials met with human rights activists, and religious and community leaders to discuss contemporary incidents of sectarian conflict and gather information to raise in government engagements. Embassy representatives also met with leading religious figures, including the Grand Mufti of Dar Al-Iftaa, the chairman of the Sufi Council, leading Christian clergy, and representatives of the Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’i communities. The embassy also promoted religious freedom on social media throughout the year, including three posts on the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report that reached 30,000 people and four on the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom that reached 20,000 people.