Coptic Statistics in Foreign Language Print Media

Sent On: 
Thu, 2014-05-15
Newsletter Number: 

The presentation of Coptic population statistics has long been a highly contentious and politicized issue, with different parties reporting widely varying numbers of Copts for various purposes.  In her recent paper for the Arab West Report, research intern Esther Schoorel investigated the presentation of these numbers from a variety of sources, looking specifically at works produced from the late 19th century to 1960, written in English and French. 

While ultimately finding that the numbers presented by these sources largely remained loyal to the official numbers produced by the Egyptian government, Esther argues that these numbers were used for significantly different purposes based on the context within which they were presented in the sources. 

The purpose of these numbers was distinctly divided between the two primary groups writing on the Coptic population in English and French during this period:  European Orientalists/Western scholars and Coptic activists. 

For the Orientalists, Esther writes, the numbers were presented in a largely descriptive and scientific manner, primarily as a means to document and understand Egypt as “a comprehensible country.”  For Coptic activists on the other hand, the numbers were often presented alongside discussion of the gradual decline of the Coptic population and themes of oppression, ultimately revealing a political purpose of the numbers, tied to Coptic rights.  Within this latter group, Esther likewise presents the emergence of highly inflated numbers in English sources, near the end of the period of study.

Importantly, Esther notes that, having been written in English and French, these sources were most likely primarily intended for international audiences.  As such, this paper gives an important insight into the politics of presenting Coptic statistics to the outside world.

Esther’s paper complements work previously done by Jenna Ferrecchia on Coptic statistics in English language sources from the 1960s until today.  Jenna’s paper highlights the course of the trend of inflation identified by Esther as emerging near the end of her period of study.

Together, these papers provide an interesting narrative of the development of Coptic statistics in foreign language print media over a period of more than one hundred years. 


Weston Bland

Research Intern,  Arab-West Report