Land of the Pyramids Hinders Christian Outreach

Monday, June 18, 2001

Inescapably intertwined with Bible history, Egypt and much of her history has had great impact over the years on Judaism, then Christianity. From Joseph being appointed as second-in-command to Pharaoh, to Moses leading the Jews through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, to the infant Jesus and His family seeking refuge, the stories are familiar to us.

Egypt's recorded history dates back to 3200 BC. This land that straddles parts of two continents--Africa and Asia--rose to world wide prominence as a series of Pharaohs who ruled the Land of the Nile oversaw incredible feats of engineering that resulted in the construction of the pyramids. Built over a 1700-year period, these structures served as royal tombs for the dynasty's rulers.

Like every empire of man, Egypt eventually lost its position of power, succumbing first to invading armies from Kush (Ethiopia), Assyria, and Persia, before the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered the land in 332 BC. Syria overthrew the Greeks in 169 BC but were themselves driven out by the Roman legions soon after.

It was during the Roman reign, tradition holds, that Christianity first came to Egypt. It is said that Mark, writer of the second gospel, brought the good news of Jesus Christ in 42. Despite persecution, Christianity flourished throughout the Empire, eventually attaining the position of official state religion under Constantine in the fourth century. However, more persecution was on the way.

Egypt fell to the Arabs in 641, and they brought with them their religion, Islam. Over the next 1400 years, Christians became a small minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim region.

Through the rest of Egypt's history--conquered by the Ottoman Empire, a brief conquest by Napoleon, British occupation for three-quarters of a century, and several wars with neighboring Israel--the situation remained unchanged through the present. Of this Mediterranean country's 68,470,000 people, only 15 percent claim to belong to any Christian denomination.

Official government statistics regularly show much smaller numbers of Christians because two-thirds list themselves as Muslim for political and occupational reasons. Out of the 15 percent who, publicly or privately, claim to be Christian, 13.6 belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Less than one percent belong to a Protestant denomination, one third of a percent are independent Protestants, and a like number are Roman Catholic. There are very small numbers of Baha'is, Jews, and Hindus.

Among the Muslim majority are the Berbers, the one-time dominant people who were mostly Christian. Arab invasions beginning in the 600s and the mass immigration of Arab Bedouins four centuries later, caused some Berbers to flee to the desert, while those that remained became "Arabized." By the fifteenth century, all had converted, at least in name.

Today, the 1,250,000 Berbers are classified as one of the "unreached" peoples of Egypt. Less than one-tenth of one percent are Christian. Even the 650,000 or so Berbers living in Europe remain Islamic.

Other unreached peoples in Egypt are the Arab Bedouins (1,250,000 with no known Christians), the Diaspora Turks (31,500 with Christians numbering less than 100), the Sudanese Arabs (3,500,000 with 1.4 percent Christians), and the Siwa (38,7000 with no Christians).

Religious tolerance, although officially a part of the law, is elusive for evangelical Christians and other religious minorities. An 1856 law, supplemented by added conditions in 1934, requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree (although now governors may permit repairs) to repair, remodel, or build a place of worship. Churches may not be built within 100 meters (328 feet) of a mosque. Muslim neighbors who object to a building project can put an end to the construction.

Other impediments to religious freedom include: 1) All citizens must carry identification cards that tell whether they are Muslim or Christian. These cards must be presented when seeking employment. 2) Only two hours per year of Christian programming is broadcast on the government-owned television stations. 3) Important trades such as dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, and engineering are taught only in religious schools that are not open to Christians. 4) Muslim converts to Christianity are sometimes charged with a law that prohibits using religion to "ignite heavenly strife, degrade any of the heavenly religions, or harm national unity or social peace."

Christians have undergone other persecutions as well. Christian girls have reportedly been abducted, then forced to marry Muslim men. Other Christians have been verbally abused, falsely charged with crimes, beaten, and even killed.

Through all this, however, native ministries continue to share the gospel with the Muslim majority. Home visits, evangelistic meetings, seminars, youth events, and tract, Bible, and cassette distribution, as well as one-on-one witnessing, are all being used to let the people of Egypt know about the love of Christ.

Please pray that the light of the gospel will burn brighter here, drawing the lost to the only begotten Son of God. To find out more about what God is accomplishing through native ministries in Egypt, write to