The ’Splainer: Who are the Copts and why are they persecuted?

Scores of people were killed, and many others were wounded. In February the group put out a video declaring Copts their “favorite prey.” Around that time, several Copts living in the Sinai were murdered, prompting hundreds of families to flee their homes. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Dragan Tatic
Do they recognize the pope? Pope Tawadros II on June 3, 2013. While Copts have achieved success in many arenas in Egypt, discrimination against them has been subtle, and there is a glass ceiling for Copts in many military and government institutions. The Islamic State group took responsibility for the two Palm Sunday bombings. On the one hand, Copts are integrated into Egyptian society. In 2013, Amnesty International issued a report saying that security forces had failed to do that. Before the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, Egypt was a predominantly Coptic country and the Coptic language, which today exists only in the church liturgy, was widely spoken. Damage from an explosion on Dec. Copts are an Oriental Orthodox church, which means they differ doctrinally from churches in the Eastern Orthodox family and from the Roman Catholic Church. Famous Copts include renowned heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, former U.N. Where do Copts live? has the biggest group of Copts in the diaspora, and, though there are no good figures, it is estimated at hundreds of thousands. What is life like for Copts in Egypt? Spires, called “lighthouses” in Egypt, dot the skyline of the Coptic Christian town of Al-Kosheh, Egypt, on March 14, 2017. The church is officially known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and was founded by the Apostle Mark in the year 42. Other Oriental Orthodox churches are found in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria and Armenia. So who are the Copts and why are they persecuted? Copts are also the largest Christian denomination in neighboring Libya and Sudan. The Copts are the largest Christian community in North Africa and the Middle East, and one of the oldest Christian sects in the world. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
With the rise of the Islamic State group in Egypt, the situation has grown more dire. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church shared a patriarch with the Coptic Church in Egypt until 1959, when it was granted its own patriarch, so the rituals of the two churches are very similar. 11, 2016, is seen inside Cairo’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Copts are reliant upon the Egyptian government to protect them. As with many issues of identity, this one is complicated, and personal. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy for President Trump. In general terms, though, Copts do not identify as Arabs. Official discrimination against Copts is somewhat cyclical, although they have suffered it in one form or another steadily since the Muslim conquest. This is a touchy question that highlights political differences as much as anything else. The terror group claimed the deadly December bomb attack at St. The community was seen as complicit in the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi, and in the days after his ouster, scores of churches across the country were set on fire and Christian-owned businesses and Coptic organizations came under attack. The ’Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ’splaining to do”) is an occasional feature in which the RNS staff gives you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler. Because the Coptic language and religion predate the arrival of Arabs in Egypt, many Copts don’t consider themselves to be Arabs. After the Palm Sunday bombings, Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros. Most Copts live in Egypt, where the community comprises an estimated 10 percent of the country’s population. Violence against Copts has been a problem for many decades, although it is often sporadic. On the other hand, they suffer routine discrimination in ways both insidious and obvious and are frequently the victims of sectarian violence. But the word “Copt” itself is derived from the Greek word for the indigenous people of Egypt, so some modern Muslims identify with the word “Copt” as well. Who are the Copts? There are two contradictory answers to that question, and both are true. (Monique El-Faizy is a freelance journalist based in Paris who has written extensively on the Copts) RNS photo by Fady Hadny
The U.S. Peter and Paul’s Church in Cairo, which sits adjacent to the seat of the Coptic pope. (RNS) Once again, Egypt’s Copts are in the news; once again, as the victims of violence. There are also relatively large Coptic concentrations in Canada and Australia. On Palm Sunday (April 9), bombs exploded in two churches, including one in Alexandria where the Coptic pope had been delivering the liturgy. Are Copts Arabs? The Copts have their own patriarch, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, who took office in 2012 after having his name picked from a glass chalice by a blindfolded boy. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has been very vocal in his support of the Copts and is scheduled to meet with his counterpart in Egypt later this month.