Who Are Egypt's Copts, and the Middle East's Other Christian Populations?

By Zirulnick, Ariel | The Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

Who Are Egypt's Copts, and the Middle East's Other Christian Populations?


Zirulnick, Ariel, The Christian Science Monitor


Recent attacks against Christians in Egypt and Iraq have drawn attention to the Middle East's Christian populations, which are dwindling as Christians flee violence, political strife, and persecution. Christians made up more than 20 percent of the region's population in the early 20th century, but today, they make up less than 10 percent. Here is a look at the status of Christians in seven key countries, from Egypt to Iran.

Recent attacks against Christians in Egypt and Iraq have drawn attention to the Middle East's Christian populations, which are dwindling as Christians flee violence, political strife, and persecution. Christians made up more than 20 percent of the region's population in the early 20th century, but today, they make up less than 10 percent. Here is a look at the status of Christians in seven key countries, from Egypt to Iran.

#7 Lebanon

An estimated 39 percent of Lebanon's population practices Christianity, according to the CIA World Factbook. The 1.6 million Christians are predominantly Maronite Christians, but include a sizable number of Greek Orthodox Christians and small numbers of other denominations.

Christians were once the dominant religious group in Lebanon. But the 15-year civil war that began in the 1970s prompted at least 1 million Lebanese Christians to flee and left the country divided along religious lines. Today, relations between Christians and Muslims are calm and Lebanese Christians retain significant political sway through a powersharing agreement that distributes the top three government positions among the country's main religious and ethnic groups - Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims.

(Editor's note: The original article overstated the size of Lebanon's Christian population.)

#6 Israel and the Palestinian Territories

In Israel, a small percentage of Israeli Arabs practice Christianity - about 2.1 percent of the population, or about 155,000 people (not including populations in the West Bank).

About 8 percent of residents in the West Bank practice Christianity, although the percentage is slightly higher if Jewish settlers, who account for about 17 percent of the West Bank population, are not included in the totals. In the Gaza Strip, Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population.

While relations are generally good between Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians, ongoing violence tied to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict has prompted many Christians to flee Israel and the West Bank. Bethlehem, once a Christian town, is now predominantly Muslim.

#5 Egypt

Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Egypt, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Coptic sect.

The growing role of Islam in daily life in Egypt has left Christians, who complain of systematic government discrimination, increasingly uneasy. …

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