CAIRO: Coptic lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla requested the Foreign Ministry’s approval to resort to an international committee to conduct a census on Copts living in Egypt.
In his request, filed Wednesday, Nakhla suggested enlisting a neutral civil organization to take on that task, under the supervision of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), to put an end to the ongoing debate between the church and the government about the actual number of Copts in Egypt, he told Daily News Egypt.
While the Coptic Orthodox Church previously announced that Copts constitute 15.3 percent of the Egyptian population – 12 of the 79 million – the last government sponsored census conducted by CAPMAS in 2006 didn’t provide a demographic breakdown of faiths.
Government officials were later quoted as saying that the number of Copts stands at 2.7 million, or 3.45 percent, but no documents are available to validate such claims.
It’s widely believed that Copts constitute around 10 percent of the population, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.
Nakhla called on the government to announce the actual number of Copts in Egypt, obtained through the official censuses. He claims the numbers are deliberately “kept secret, and threatened to sue the government should it turn down his request.
“Resorting to international experts in the census doesn’t undermine Egypt’s sovereignty; we resort to foreign referees in football games just as we resort to foreign monitors in the elections, Nakhla said.
Father Morqus, head of the press office at the Orthodox Church, denied any affiliation with the request.
“The church rejects turning to any foreign entity in local issues, he told Daily News Egypt. “We are not interested in the actual number of Copts; we are not interested in what the government announces because we are aware of our population through an accurate census conducted by the church.
Kamal Zakher, spokesperson for the Secular Copts Front, told Daily News Egypt that he considers the request a confirmation of the sectarian nature that exists in Egypt.
“Escalating the issue and resorting to an international committee reflects the sectarian mentality adopted by the government and the church, he said.
Mohamed Mounir, founder of the Egyptians Against Discrimination Movement, warned against turning to an international committee, explaining that “addressing the vagueness surrounding the official number of Copts calls for the cooperation of the civil society to find more effective ways to lobby officials to reveal this information, not only for its importance, but because its ‘confidentiality’ is suspicious.