Egypt Dispatch: Coptic Christians Grapple With Fear and Faith

The country's largest religious minority navigates a turbulent new era.
St. Maria Church

With Egypt aspiring to democracy but still in political tumult, much is at stake for its minority populations, including Coptic Christians. They are estimated to number more than 8 million, making them the country's largest religious minority group. Increasingly they have become a target for extremists. Since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, acts of aggression and violence, in addition to long-running discrimination and neglect, have instilled fear in the Coptic community regarding their prospects for a peaceful existence. Says Kerolus Dawood, a 22-year-old survivor of the "All Saints" Coptic Church bombing in Alexandria in January 2011: "One of the worst memories of that day was watching the blood of my family being washed down the sewers." (See photo 10.)

Many Coptic Christians insist that Egypt—and their rights to live, work, and thrive in it—are worth fighting and even dying for. "We are here, and we are not leaving!" is a common refrain among Copts in response to the spike in religious-based violence against them. "I want to be treated like a normal citizen and not neglected because of my name and my religion," says Hanna Nabi Ayub, 31, recently widowed due to the violence (photo 11).

But the recent attacks also belie pockets of tolerance and integration, and the fact that the Christian community is diverse and evolving: They are activists, priests, farmers, garbage collectors, and more. How Egypt's largest minority will fare in the years ahead hinges on important questions about democracy, tolerance, and respect, as well as the pivotal role that religion plays more broadly in Egyptian politics and daily life.