The Coptic Christian population in Egypt is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Christians represent around 10-20% of a population of over 80 million Egyptians, though estimations vary (see Religion in Egypt). Around 90% of whom belong to the native Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The remaining (around 800,000) are divided between the Coptic Catholic and the Coptic Protestant churches.
The number of Copts within Egypt may be very slowly declining due to higher emigration rates caused by harassment and discrimination at the hands of Islamist militants and the Egyptian government. Egyptian Copts have occasionally been on the receiving end of violent acts from Islamic extremist groups. Copts have leveled the accusation that the Egyptian government has sometimes been complicit or uncaring in the face of such incidents.
A similar situation is observed in the name Memphis [Greek Μέμφις], which comes from the Egyptian name of the pyramid complex of king Pepi II, mn nfr ppy (lit. "Established in Perfection or 'Beauty' is Pepy") at Saqqara but which was applied to the nearby capital city. Interestingly, this usage survived in Sahidic as Gupton and Kupton, meaning "Memphis". In modern Egyptian Arabic, Cairo is usually called Masr (Egyptian Arabic: مَصر), which is also the name of Egypt.
There is another theory which states that the Arabic word qibṭ "Copt" was an Arabisation of the Greek name of the town of Κόπτος Coptos (modern قفط Qifṭ; Coptic Kebt and Keft), but is generally no longer accepted.
References to Copts in the Coptic language are both Greek and Coptic in origin. The words kuptaion (Sahidic) and kubti (Bohairic) are attested, but are used in the surviving texts to refer to the language, rather than the people; these both derive from Greek Αἴγύπτιος aiguptios "Egyptian". The Coptic term for the word "Egyptian" is rem en kēme (Sahidic) , lem en kēmi (Fayyumic), rem en khēmi (Bohairic) , etc., literally "people of Egypt"; cf. Egyptian rmṯ n kmt, Demotic rmt n kmỉ.
The etymological meaning of the word therefore pertains to all people of Egyptian origins, not only those who profess Coptic Orthodoxy. Medieval writers before the Mamluk period often used the words Copts (Arabic: قبط) and Egyptians (Arabic: مصريون) interchangeably to describe all the people of Egypt whether Christian or Muslim. After the bulk of the Egyptian population converted to Islam, the word Copt came to be associated with Egyptians who retained their Christianity. In the 20th century, some Egyptian nationalists and intellectuals began using the term Copts in the historical sense. For example, Markos Pasha Semeika, founder of the Coptic Museum, addressed a group of Egyptian students in these words: "All of you are Copts. Some of you are Muslim Copts, others are Christian Copts, but all of you are descended from the Ancient Egyptians".
The Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Although integrated in the larger Egyptian nation, the Copts have survived as a distinct religious community forming around 10 - 20% of the population, though estimates vary (see Religion in Egypt). They pride themselves on the apostolicity of the Egyptian Church whose founder was the first in an unbroken chain of patriarchs.
Another major contribution made by the Egyptians to Christianity was the creation and organization of monasticism. The most prominent figures of the monastic movement were Anthony the Great, Paul of Thebes, Macarius the Great, Shenouda the Archimandrite and Pachomius the Cenobite. By the end of the fifth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. Worldwide Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example. Thus, Saint Basil the Great Archbishop of Caesarea Mazaca, and the founder and organiser of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around 357 A.D. and his monastic rules are followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches; Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt while en route to Jerusalem around 400 A.D. and left details of his experiences in his letters; and Saint Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the sixth century on the model of Saint Pachomius, although in a stricter form. Countless pilgrims have visited the Egyptian Desert Fathers to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives.
The Arabs imposed a special tax, known as Jizya, on the Christians who acquired the status of dhimmis, and all native Egyptians were prohibited from joining the army. Egyptian converts to Islam in turn were relegated to the status of mawali. Heavy taxation was one of the reasons behind Egyptian organized resistance against the new occupying power, as well as the decline of the number of Christians in Egypt.
The Arabs in the 7th century seldom used the term Egyptian, and used instead the term Copt to describe the people of Egypt. Thus, Egyptians became known as Copts, and the non-Chalcedonian Egyptian Church became known as the Coptic Church. The Chalcedonian Church remained known as the Melkite Church. In their own native language, Egyptians referred to themselves as rem-en-kimi, which translates into those of Egypt. Religious life remained largely undisturbed following the Arab occupation, as evidence by the rich output of Coptic arts in monastic centers in Old Cairo (Fustat) and throughout Egypt. Conditions, however, worsened shortly after that, and in the eighth and ninth centuries, during the period of the great national resistance against the Arabs, Muslim rulers banned the use of human forms in art (taking advantage of an iconoclastic conflict in Byzantium) and consequently destroyed many Coptic paintings and frescoes in churches.
The Fatimid period of Islamic rule in Egypt was tolerant with the exception of the violent persecutions of caliph Al-Hakim. The Fatimid rulers employed Copts in the government and participated in Coptic and local Egyptian feasts. Major renovation and reconstruction of churches and monasteries were also undertaken. Coptic arts flourished, reaching new heights in Middle and Upper Egypt. Persecution of Egyptian Christians, however, reached a peak in the early Mamluk period following the Crusader wars. Many forced conversions of Christians took place. Monasteries were occasionally raided and destroyed by marauding Bedouin, but were rebuilt and reopened.
Today, members of the non-Chalcedonian Coptic Orthodox Church constitute the majority of the Egyptian Christian population. Mainly through emigration and partly through European, American, and other missionary work and conversions, the Egyptian Christian community now also includes other Christian denominations such as Protestants (known in Arabic as Evangelicals), Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics, and other Orthodox congregations. The term Coptic remains exclusive however to the Egyptian natives, as opposed to the Christians of non-Egyptian origins. Some Protestant churches for instance are called "Coptic Evangelical Church", thus helping differentiate their native Egyptian congregations from churches attended by non-Egyptian immigrant communities such as Europeans or Americans.
In 2005 a group of Coptic activists created a flag to represent Copts worldwide. This flag is not officially recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Coptic community has been targeted by hate crimes and physical assaults. The most significant was the 2000-2001 El Kosheh attacks, In which Muslims and Christians were being involved in bloody inter-religious clashes following a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian. "Twenty Christians and one Muslim were killed after violence broke out in the town of el-Kosheh, 440 kilometres (275 miles) south of Cairo". In 2006, one person who was both drunk and mad, attacked three churches in Alexandria left one dead and from 5 to 16 injured, although the attacker was not linked to any organisation. but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.
The Coptic language is the last stage of the Egyptian language.
Today, Coptic is the liturgical language of the Egyptian Church and is also taught in Egypt and worldwide in many prestigious institutions. Dialects of Coptic language:
The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian calendar, is used by the Coptic Orthodox Church and also by Ethiopia as its official calendar (with different names). This calendar is based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. To avoid the calendar creep of the latter, a reform of the ancient Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III (Decree of Canopus, in 238 BC) which consisted of the intercalation of a sixth epagomenal day every fourth year. However, this reform was opposed by the Egyptian priests, and the idea was not adopted until 25 BC, when the Roman Emperor Augustus formally reformed the calendar of Egypt, keeping it forever synchronized with the newly introduced Julian calendar. To distinguish it from the Ancient Egyptian calendar, which remained in use by some astronomers until medieval times, this reformed calendar is known as the Coptic calendar. Its years and months coincide with those of the Ethiopian calendar but have different numbers and names.
The Coptic year is the extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year, retaining its subdivision into the three seasons, four months each. The three seasons are commemorated by special prayers in the Coptic Liturgy. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and an intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 or 6 days, depending whether the year is a leap year or not. The year starts on 29 August in the Julian Calendar or on the 30th in the year before (Julian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as the Julian Calendar so that the extra month always has six days in the year before a Julian Leap Year.
The Feast of Neyrouz marks the first day of the Coptic year. Its celebration falls on the 1st day of the month of Thout, the first month of the Coptic year, which for AD 1901 to 2098 usually coincides with 11 September, except before a Gregorian leap year when it's September 12. Coptic years are counted from AD 284, the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor, whose reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians, especially in Egypt. Hence, the Coptic year is identified by the abbreviation A.M. (for Anno Martyrum or "Year of the Martyrs"). The A.M. abbreviation is also used for the unrelated Jewish year (Anno Mundi).
Every fourth Coptic year is a leap year without exception, as in the Julian calendar, so the above mentioned new year dates apply only between AD 1900 and 2099 inclusive in the Gregorian Calendar. In the Julian Calendar, the new year is always 29 August, except before a Julian leap year when it's August 30. Easter is reckoned by the Julian Calendar in the Old Calendarist way.
To obtain the Coptic year number, subtract from the Julian year number either 283 (before the Julian new year) or 284 (after it).
Many Copts are internationally renowned. Some of the most well known Copts include Boutros Boutros-Ghali the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sir Magdi Yacoub an internationally renowned heart surgeon, Hani Azer, a world leading civil engineer, and billionaire Fayez Sarofim, one of the richest men in America and the world.