The Copts are indigenous Egyptian Christians, the vast majority belonging to the Orthodox Church. They live throughout Egypt but are concentrated in Alexandria, Cairo and the urban areas of Upper Egypt (southern Egypt) and represent around 5–10 per cent of the total population. Copts believe themselves to be the descendants of Egypt's ancient Pharaonic people. They were first converted to Christianity with the arrival of St Mark in Egypt in AD 62. The Muslims arrived in AD 640, but did not constitute a majority until about three centuries later, mostly due to the conversion of the Egyptian populace. As Dhimi or 'peoples of the Book', Copts are tolerated under Islamic law.

Copts are predominantly prosperous city dwellers engaging in commerce and the professions, but complain of discrimination in the workplace and restrictions on church construction. Periodic fear of forced conversions to Islam has provoked protest.

The latest protests took place on 9 December 2004 at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. Protesters clashed with police and a number of Copts were detained pending investigation.

On 20 December 2004 Coptic Pope Shenouda III was prompted to go into seclusion at a monastery in protest against the treatment of Copts, declaring he would not resume his duties until those arrested had been released. Copts' primary grievances are their political and cultural marginalization within Egyptian society and the seeming inability of the Egyptian government to protect them from attack by Islamic militants.

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