Religion and Society in Egypt

Editors’ Note: In “Where Are We Going?” in the June 2024 edition of ONE magazine, Magdy Samaan reports on the challenges facing Christians in Egypt, and how the church is responding. He provides his perspective on the changing role and influence of religion in Egypt, including how religion and society impact each other and how both have been affected by modernization in this audio report. A full transcript is available below.

Listen to the audio:

In this issue of ONE magazine, we wrote an article about the challenges facing Christians in Egypt to keep their faith. Among the challenges we listed were addiction to the internet, economic hardships and the pressure to convert to Islam. In this audio, I would like to give a wider context of a bigger challenge.

Religion has played a pivotal role in shaping Egypt’s rich history from its ancient time to the modern era. The birth of religion in Egypt coincided with the rise of the world’s first centralized government. For a million years, religious beliefs and practices permeated every aspect of Egyptian life, influencing art, architecture and even governance.

However, the 2011 revolution marked a turning point, as the aspirations of democracy and individual freedoms ignited concerns among religious institutions about the potential spread of secularism, particularly among the younger generations.

In response to these perceived threats, attempts were made to modernize religious discourse, adapting to the challenging social landscape.

However, these efforts were largely met with resistance as religious institutions aligned themselves with the military to fail democratic transition and restore a centralized authoritarian regime that goes along with the patriarchal religious institutions in Egypt. Consequently, voices advocating for freedom and reform were silenced.

Despite acknowledging the challenges posed by the internet and social media, religious institutions, particularly the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches, no longer perceive the same level of existential threat as they did during the revolution. As a result, they have largely reverted to traditional practices rooted in heritage, assuming that the wave of social change has subsided.

However, this complacency may prove costly. The wind of change may seem to [be] calm, but beneath the surface, a silent transformation is underway. This transformation poses a significant challenge to [the] preservation of traditional religious beliefs in Egypt. If religious institutions, particularly the leading churches, fail to adapt and update their teachings and practices to the modern era, the next wave of social change could indeed shake the foundations of Egypt’s long-standing religious identity.

Based in Cairo, Magdy Samaan is the Egypt correspondent for The Times of London. His work also has been published by CNN, the Daily Telegraph and Foreign Policy.

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