Throughout history, religious diversity has been one of the main characteristics of Egyptian society. In Pharaonic Egypt, religion played a key role in the life of the ancient Egyptians. This led to the spread of Christianity through the apostle Mark in the year 65 A.D., when he began his missionary journey from Alexandria, a city that had a great cultural significance and was characterized by the presence of a powerful and politically influential Jewish community. When Islam spread in Egypt in the year 640 A.D., there were no major conversions. Instead, Christians, both Chalcedonian Christians and Copts, continued to form the majority of the population until the 11th century. They also accepted the rules established by the existing Muslim caliphs, which imposed a tax on Christians and Jews (dhimmis) and deprived them of some rights. Back then, rulers did not adopt a single policy to deal with non-Muslims, who were subjected to various forms of political and social discrimination.

A major turning point occurred in 1855 when Khedive Said decided to abolish religious taxes and allow Christians to join the army for the first time. This renewed respect for religious pluralism and the guarantee of related rights. During the following decades, Catholic and Evangelical Churches were allowed to operate within Egypt and to preach among Christians. The Bahai community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious denominations also came about and were given legal status, allowing them to administer their own affairs and practice their religious rites. However, in 1960, the Egyptian state revoked its recognition of the Bahai community and dissolved the Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the period known as the “Islamic Awakening” and the increase in the number of Egyptians working in Gulf states, the country moved towards more religious conservatism, restriction of public freedoms, as well as the spread of discriminatory policies and practices at the official and societal levels. This was reflected in incidents of religious and sectarian violence over the following decades. 

Despite these difficult circumstances, religious minorities in Egypt learned to be vocal and fight for their rights, especially more recently with the Communication/Social Media Revolution, which presented them with the opportunity to express themselves publicly. They also actively participated in the events of the January 25th Revolution in 2011 to ask for freedom and a decent life, as Egyptian citizens with equal rights


There are no official statistics on the number of members of majority and minority religions, as the government stopped issuing statistics after it became non-mandatory to state one’s religion in population censuses. However, some reports, most notably those of the American Commission on International Religious Freedom, indicate that nearly 90% of the total population (about 105 million) is comprised of Sunni Muslims, while 10% of the population is Christian. Other minorities, such as Bahais, Jews, and Shias also exist in smaller numbers. 

Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution states that Islam is the official state religion and that Shari’a is the primary source of legislation, which contradicts other articles of the constitution. The same constitution also discriminates against the rights and freedoms of religious minorities as it imposes upon them the acceptance of Islam as the dominant religion, which constitutes a direct threat to the right to equality and non-discrimination. In addition, the constitution only recognizes the three Abrahamic religions and does not provide unrecognized religious groups with full rights, as article 64 states that “the freedom of belief is absolute, and the freedom to practice religious rites and establish houses of worship for followers of monotheistic religions is a right regulated by law”. This text places two restrictions on the right to practice religious rites: it limits this right to followers of Abrahamic religions, and deals with the practice of religious rites and the building of houses of worship as one, subjecting them both to legal provisions. As such, it would be illegal for a group of citizens to gather for a religious occasion or pray outside designated places of worship. Article 7 of the constitution also states that the Muslim majority itself should adhere to one exclusive vision of Islam as interpreted by Al-Azhar, meaning that the rights of non-Sunni Muslim and of Sunni Muslims who follow a different interpretation of Islam are usually infringed upon. This article is mainly used to justify grave abuses against Egyptian citizens who do not belong to the dominant Sunni denomination. 

The non-recognition of a religious group results in the absence of legal personality: therefore, authorities do not allow the establishment of places of worship for its believers nor do they recognize its religious leadership. This leads to the group’s inability to perform its religious rites and to perform marriages according to its beliefs, as it is impossible to obtain marriage licenses or documentation in the name of the group. Likewise, its followers do not have the right to obtain official papers in which their true religion or belief is recorded and cannot manifest their religion freely and without fear of being persecuted.

Ishaq Ibrahim and Ana Maria Daou





A short introduction to RMs in Egypt is available at Minorities and Indigenous People in Egypt, Minority Rights Group International

See also

Costet-Tardieu F. (2016). Les minorités chrétiennes dans la construction de l'Egypte moderne: 1922-1952, Paris, Karthala

Faour M. (2012). Religious Education and Pluralism in Egypt and Tunisia, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center

Ibrahim I. (2017). Copts of Egypt. Minorities and indigenous peoples in Egypt, Minority Rights Group International

Ibrahim I. (2021). الأقليات الدينية غير المعترف بها في مصر: الفيل الذي لا يراه المسؤولون [Egypt’s Officials Don’t See Unrecognized Religious Minorities], The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

Isaac J. (2012). Separate but Equal: Segregated Religious Education in Egypt’s Public Schools, International Journal of Progressive Education, 8, 1, 6-21

Lukasik C. (2022). Minority (Trans)Nationalism between Egypt and the United States, Religion and Nationalism in Global Perspective

Mohieddin M. (2013). No change in sight: The situation of religious minorities in post-Mubarak Egypt, Minority Rights Group International

TIMEP (2022). Egypt’s Religious Minorities: The Legal Framework, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy



Data source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed August 2021)
Religion Pop 2020 RM Pct% 2020 Total Pop.
Ahmadis N/A N/A  
Baha'is 2.474 <0.1%  
Copts 8.528.832 8.33%  
Shia Muslims 157.217 0.15%