Egyptian Christians: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The first round of the Egyptian presidential election resulted in a runoff between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy, who won 25 percent of the votes (about 5.8 million), and Ahmed Shafiq — a former prime minister and symbol of the Hosni Mubarak regime — who won 24 percent (about 5.5 million votes). The question now is how Egyptian Coptic Christians will vote in the upcoming runoff between these two candidates.

There are almost 8.5 million Copts in Egypt who represent about 10 percent of the population and constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Observers often cite how Copts are concerned that the Brotherhood might turn Egypt into an Islamic state. Nevertheless, the alternative, Shafiq, is generally not welcomed by many Egyptians who consider him part of the previous regime. With this in mind, there is still a question of whether the Brotherhood will be willing to take political or legal steps that may alleviate Copts’ concerns about the movement’s conservatism and encourage Christians to vote for the Brotherhood’s candidate.

Answering this question requires an examination of the way Copts have historically been treated in Egypt, a country that has a majority Muslim population. It is also necessary to explain the general principles that regulate the status of religious minorities in Islam. While these are complex issues that fall beyond the context of this article, a brief reading of Islamic history reveals that religious minorities can coexist peacefully in an Islamic country.


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