Islam is state religion in Egypt. Almost all Muslims profess Islam’s main focus on Sunni. Religious freedom prevails under the Constitution, even though the state does not recognize conversion from Islam. Perhaps a tenth of the population belongs to the Christian Coptic Church that has existed in the country for 2,000 years.
In Cairo lies the mosque al-Azhar, founded in 970. al-Azhar is the most important seat of the Sunni Muslim world in the world and its supreme council is the foremost authority of the Sunni Muslims in the world. Islamic revival followed Egypt’s loss in the six-day war against Israel in 1967 (see Foreign Policy and Defense). In the wake of the revival, al-Azhar became a powerful tool for the growing Islamic influence over Egypt’s politics, legislation, education, finance, cultural life and the media. Since 1980, Islamic law, Sharia, has been the basis for all legislation. That formulation was retained in the new constitution adopted in 2014, but in reality the country’s judicial system is largely characterized by Western European legal tradition.
In Egyptian Sunni Islam, there are many different directions. Some practice inward Islamic mysticism, Sufism, while others are eager to build society entirely on Sharia. There is also a small group of Shia Muslims who are often subjected to persecution. There is a divide between intellectual Muslims and the majority of Egyptians who do not study the Qur’an and who often mix Islam with magic and disbelief. There is also a gap with political explosiveness that has become increasingly clear.
In the first free elections held in Egypt, 2011–2012, fundamentalist Salafists won great success. However, the victors of the elections became the Muslim Brotherhood movement, founded in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood has support among both academics and uneducated Egyptians, and has branches throughout the Arab world. The movement has mainly turned to Western influence and has addressed social problems among the unemployed of the big cities. It was banned from 1954 and its supporters were persecuted by the regime. However, the broad popular support consisted and the Brotherhood prevailed when the ban was lifted and elections were held, first to Parliament and then to the Presidential post. In the summer of 2013, however, the military deposed President Muhammad Mursi and then struck hard against the supporters of the movement. Modern History and Calendar).
- Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Egypt, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.
In the 1990s, support for underground extremist Islamist movements increased, such as the Islamic Group (al-Gamaa al-Islamiya) and al-Jihad, which carried out armed terror against what they saw as the godless Mubarak regime. Islamist violence has since decreased, but has now escalated. A militant group called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis emerged after the 2011 uprising and initially targeted mainly Israel. After the military takeover in Egypt in 2013, security forces and the Egyptian state became the main targets. Tourists and other civilians have also been subjected to terrorist acts. The group has changed its name to the Sinai Province and claims to be part of the Islamic State (IS) jihadi movement.
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Estimates of the Copts’ share of the population vary between 6 and 18 percent. Christianity came to the country as early as the first century AD, according to the tradition of the apostle Mark. At the end of the twentieth century, the first Christian monks appeared in the Egyptian desert. The word Copt is synonymous with Egyptians and was used about the Christian population when the Arabs invaded in the 600s.
There are also other Christian communities, such as Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. The Jews in Egypt were severely persecuted after the war between Israel and Egypt in 1967. Many then emigrated to Israel and today only a few dozen remain. Anti-Semitic elements are common in Egyptian mass media.
For over 1,000 years, Muslims, Copts and Jews have lived peacefully side by side in Egypt. However, the conflict between Israel and the Arab world, as well as the growing Islamic fundamentalism, have disturbed coexistence. Many Christians and some Muslims have been killed in religiously motivated violence. Although freedom of religion prevails according to the constitution, there is discrimination against Egyptians who have converted from Islam to other religions. They are often forced to enter Islam instead of the true religious affiliation on their ID cards. In recent years, attacks and bloody clashes have occurred several times.
On New Year’s Day 2011, over 20 heads were killed in a blast after a midnight mass in Alexandria. Islamists were accused of the act, but some instead suspected that the regime was behind it. Only a few weeks later, street protests began leading to the fall of the Mubarak regime (see Modern History). The protests were led by non-religious forces, but were followed by sharp contradictions between the religious groups.
Hundreds of thousands of copper have emigrated from Egypt since the early 1990s.
Violence against the Copts has increased since IS in early 2017 called for violence against Christians. In April of that year, 45 people were killed in two simultaneous suicide attacks against churches and in May, nearly 30 were killed in a raid as they were on their way to a monastery. But IS does not only target Christians: in an attack on a mosque in November, more than 300 Muslims were killed in what was described as the bloodiest assault of modern times in Egypt.
Muslim Brotherhood is stamped terrorist
The government’s declaration gives the authorities increased opportunities to strike against persons who support the Brotherhood’s activities.
Mursi’s prime minister is arrested
Hisham Qandil is arrested during an attempt to flee to Sudan.
Imprisonment under the Protest Act
The first judges fall for violations of the new Demonstration Act, which was passed in November. Three leading democracy activists – Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel – receive three years in prison for protesting against the law. The first two are some of the founders of the April 6 movement (see Political system).
Bloggers are arrested
Democratic activist Alaa Abdul Fattah is one of many arrested under the new law in just a few days. It becomes clear that the regime now also applies to secular and liberal critics.
Law limits the freedom of assembly
Human rights groups are protesting against a new law which means that public protest actions may only occur if the police have been informed at least three days in advance. According to critics, the law is stricter than that applied under Mubarak’s rule.
Relations with Turkey are broken
The government expels Turkey’s ambassador since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the Egyptian leadership to put Mursi on the loose. Turkey responds by expelling Egypt’s ambassador to Ankara.
Mursi in court
A first trial against Muhammad Mursi and 14 co-defendants, including the two leaders Essam El-Erian and Mohammed al-Beltagi, will begin on November 4. The charges relate to the murder charge in connection with a clash outside the presidential palace (see December 2012).
Sisi de facto leader
Supporters of Army Chief Sisi claim that over 9 million people – just over 10 percent of the country’s population – have signed a call for Sisi to hold upcoming presidential elections. His portraits are everywhere and he is praised in songs and poems.
At least 50 are killed in clashes between police and Mursian supporters in Cairo and some other cities in connection with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the October War outbreak in 1973 (see Foreign Policy and Defense). More than 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood are arrested.
Muslim Brotherhood is forbidden
The government decides to seize the organization’s assets and prohibit its extensive social activities.
Security forces occupy Kerdasa
The community outside Cairo has been controlled by armed Islamists for over a month. They captured Kerdasa on August 14 and are said to have murdered and violated 14 police officers in revenge for storming the camps in Cairo.
Offensive against Islamists in Sinai
The army begins what is described as a comprehensive offensive against militant groups. The unrest in Sinai has escalated considerably since the military took government in early July. The military accuses Mursi of giving the Islamists too much latitude, including by freeing incarcerated Islamists and stopping military operations in Sinai.
Brotherhood’s highest leader is arrested
Mohammed Badie, who went underground when Mursi was deposed, is now arrested in Cairo. He is charged with committing violence and murder of Islamist opponents during the June riots. Hundreds of members of the Brotherhood have been arrested since the protest camps were emptied.
Violent clashes are taking place around the country, between various protesters, between protesters and security forces, and between security forces and militant Islamists.
Criticism of bloody intervention
The attack on the camps is condemned by the UN Secretary-General, the US and EU countries. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigns in protest. The former IAEA commander is among those who believe that the military has taken over to curb the growing anarchy in the country.
The military strikes with violence against the protest camps in Cairo
On August 14, security forces enter the camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque and the smaller one at al-Nahda Square. The former takes all day to evacuate. The military uses tear gas, rubber bullets and sharp ammunition against the protesters, and excavators to demolish the camp. After the storm, the authorities report about 630 dead. Human rights organizations speak of the 800 dead mints in the massacre, while the Muslim Brotherhood states that the death toll is around 2,600.
The outside world is trying to mediate
Intensive efforts are being made by the EU, the US, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to get the government and the Muslim Brotherhood to agree. After just over a week, the government finds that the attempts have failed, and blames the Brotherhood.
Ultimatum from the military
The government appeals to the protesters to “catch their senses” and to break up the two camps in Cairo during the protests. The Mursian pendants refuse.
Violent protests continue
Islamists continue to protest against the takeover, and dozens are killed in clashes with security forces. Supporters of the military-backed transitional government are also demonstrating.
The Interim Government will take office
Former Finance Minister Hazem al-Beblawi is appointed prime minister while Mohamed ElBaradei becomes vice president in charge of foreign policy. Army commander Sisi becomes defense minister and first deputy prime minister. The Muslim Brotherhood has declined to participate in the transitional government
Massacre outside the Republican Guard headquarters
Soldiers shoot at least 51 Mursian supporters in Cairo. The army claims that “terrorists” tried to storm the headquarters, while the Muslim Brotherhood describes the shooting deaths as a massacre. Over 400 people are shot dead. FJP urges Egyptians to rebel against the military-backed regime.
Mursian supporters protest
After Friday prayers, they meet with both security forces and opponents. More than 30 people are reported to have been killed.
Mixed reactions to the cup
Many Egyptians cheer and pay tribute to the military, while Islamists gather to protest. The outside world is cautious in its statements. One reason why the criticism of the coup is restrained is the great popular support for the military’s takeover of power.
The military deposes Mursi
When the military’s ultimatum expires, Army Chief Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi announces that the Constitution has been repealed and that the new Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, will take over the President’s power. Mursi, like a large number of leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood, is arrested.
The military sets the ultimatum
Mursi is given 48 hours to reach a settlement with the opposition. What else will happen is unclear. The situation is very tense with continued major demonstrations. At least 16 people are killed in a raid against a government-friendly demonstration.
Giant demonstration against Mursi
The clashes between supporters and opponents of the president have been hit and on the anniversary of his June 30 accession, a few million people are reported to attend a demonstration. They demand Mursi’s resignation and new election to the presidential post.
Ahead of the anniversary of Mursi’s entry into power, clashes between supporters and opponents of the president are stepping up. Several people are killed in violent situations. The army commander warns that the military will not allow the country to get into “uncontrollable conflict”.
High Court rejects Mursi decision
The Court annuls the dismissal of the Prosecutor General (see November 2012) and blocks his decision to appoint a new Prosecutor General. But the government says the new decision should be appealed to the country’s highest court.
The parliamentary elections are stopped
An administrative court finds that the electoral law has not been handled properly. Mursi says he accepts the decision. It is now unclear when the election can be held.
Opposition leaders decide to boycott the election
National rescue fronts formed by three secular opposition representatives (Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Musa and Hamdin Sabbahi) believe that democratic conditions are lacking, and that the electoral law favors Islamists.
Mursi announces elections
According to the president, elections to Parliament are to be held in four rounds from the end of April.
The disturbances persist
On the two-year anniversary of Mubarak’s fall, February 11, protesters clash with riot police outside the Cairo presidential palace.
Attempt political dialogue
The grandmother at the al-Azhar mosque invites political representatives for talks after a week of more violence than at any other time since Mursi took office. Opposition leaders, representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, heads and activists participate. Participants sign an agreement condemning, among other things, the violence.
Warnings about Civil War
Many defy the curfew and protests continue. The opposition rejects the invitation to dialogue. The escalating political crisis and escalating violence trigger warnings about civil war. Army chief Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi warns that the state will collapse.
Bloody football ruffles
When a court announces the death sentence against 21 people involved in the football violence in February 2012, supporters from two different clubs clash. About 30 people die, and at least three more are put to death the next day in connection with a mass burial of the victims. The unrest, with several deaths, continues elsewhere. Mursi announces 30-day state of emergency and night-time curfew in three cities along the Suez Canal.
Growing protests against Mursi
On the two-year anniversary of the rebellion against Mubarak, hundreds of thousands of protesters accuse President Mursi of betraying the revolution. Nearly 500 people are reported to have been injured in clashes with police in twelve different provinces. Six deaths are reported from the city of Suez.