Recent militant attacks on Coptic Christians in the restive Sinai Peninsula have brought Egypt’s sizeable minority under the spotlight.
Scores of Christian families have fled the desert peninsula in recent days to nearby provinces in the wake of attacks in which six Copts were killed.
According to the social solidarity directorate in North Sinai, around 258 Coptic families have left their homes in northern Sinai and sought refuge in other provinces.
North Sinai has the lowest Christian population, where around 500 to 700 families live there.
The majority of Egypt’s Christian population are Copts. There are also followers of the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Christians of Latin and Maronite churches.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is a major backer of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, an army general who led a coup against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in 2013.
The number of Egypt’s Christians has always been disputed.
A 1966 census put the number of Christians at around two million, making up around 7 percent of Egypt’s 29 million population.
Another census in 1976 showed that the Christian population has grown by 200,000, while Egypt’s population increased by six million to hit 35 million.
The number of Christians reached 2.8 million in 1986, making up 5.8 percent of Egypt’s 48 million population.
In 2000, the Christians were estimated at between 4.5 to 5 million of Egypt’s 80 million population.
Some independent groups, however, insist that the numbers of Christians in Egypt are much higher than those announced by the Egyptian government, citing political and social reasons for concealing the real numbers of Christians in the Muslim-majority country.
Changes in the estimates of Egypt’s Christian population were noticed in the wake of the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year autocracy of Hosni Mubarak.
In 2012, the state statistics agency CAPMAS said around 5.13 million Christians live in the country. The figure, however, was objected by the Coptic Orthodox Church, which put the number of Christians at around 15 million.
Meanwhile, British and U.S. figures put the number of Christians at between 8 to 15 percent of Egypt’s population.
The majority of Christians live in southern provinces like Assuit, Luxor and Aswan as well as the Cairo suburbs of Helwan and Shubra.
In the wake of the anti-Mubarak uprising, a serious number of Christians migrated from Egypt to the United States and Canada.
*Reporting by Aydogan Kalabalik; Writing by Meryem Goktas
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