On November 3, 2023, more than ten thousand people gathered for the event and heard Dr. Michael Youssef of Leading the Way ministries openly share the gospel. The meeting also included a simultaneous gathering of thousands of children.
Yousef’s ministry reported that more than five thousand people indicated a decision to follow Christ. Youssef said that twelve months of prayer prepared the way for event. He called it a “foretaste of heaven.”
The evangelical outreach organized by pastors and leaders from 27 denominations demonstrated the unity of purpose that has seen the Church in Egypt gain significant ground in expanding freedom of Christian worship under President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who is the first Egyptian President to attend Christmas liturgies.
Several laws have been passed or are under review since 2014 including personal legal status of Christians and easing of regulations that govern building of churches. Interdenominational cooperation and a more liberal government has allowed the Church in Egypt to steadily grow and find a voice in a predominantly Muslim country that is seen as a leader in the Arab world. Nevertheless, approximately ten percent of Egypt’s 109 million population are Christians with nine out of ten Christians identifying as Coptic Orthodox Church members. Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans are the minority Christians in Egypt.
The recent developments come against a background of years of persecution of Coptic Christians by radical Islamists. A 2023 report by the International Christian Concern (ICC) suggests that Christians in Egypt have been caught in a political crossfire between the extremists – the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS – on one side and Sisi’s government on the other. Churches have been attacked included the 2017 Palm Sunday suicide bombings in the cities of Alexandria and Tanta that killed over 360 Christians.
The report notes that, “The Islamist groups accordingly use ‘the bombing of churches, and the subsequent displays of Christian persecution in the media as a way of showing Sisi’s powerlessness.”
While systematic, widespread attacks have decreased, limited and isolated religious persecution still exists in Egypt. Student and activist Patrick Zaki, for instance, was in 2023 arrested, tortured and sentenced to three years in prison for publishing an opinion piece about living in Egypt as a persecuted Christian. The case attracted international attention, including the US State Department. President Sisi, however, pardoned Zaki before he started the prison sentence.
The growth of the Church in Egypt is also evidenced by surging numbers of students graduating from theological schools in Egypt. The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) is the oldest and biggest Bible college in Egypt. The Presbyterian-founded institution has seen a steady increase of students over the past decades. In 2019, 300 students were enrolled in the school, growing to over 500 in 2022.
Beyond the student numbers that speak to a growing ministry in Egypt, the requirement by the seminary for Master’s of Divinity students to take church planting and evangelism as a mandatory course in the early 2000s started to bear fruit a decade later.
During the Arab Spring, when Egypt’s government was overthrown through mass protests in 2011, Christians and Muslims united to demonstrate against former President Mubarak’s regime. The voice and the presence of the Church in Egypt expanded during the uprising through peaceful and meaningful contribution to the mass protests. Churches and church organizations provided medical and psychosocial support to the protestors at Tahirir Square, the epicenter of the protests. The Kasr El Dobara Church mobilized prayers for the nation near the square attended by over 50,000 Christians and a sizable number of Muslims.
However, the people’s revolution soon turned to disillusionment when the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority of the seats in the parliamentary election and captured the presidency in the 2011 elections, electing Mohammed Morsi as the first Islamist president. Persecution of Christians increased significantly during the short lived period of the Brotherhood’s government. At least 20 churches were burned, hundreds of Christians were targeted and killed by either ISIS or supporters of Muslim Brotherhood, and many more were injured and displaced from their homes.