The Copts regard themselves as direct descendents of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. The word Coptic originally meant ancient Egyptian. One of the first Christian missionaries, Saint Mark, introduced Christianity to Egypt in the first century A.D.
Even back then, the Copts suffered persecution, first by the Romans. In the third century, 800,000 people were killed because of their faith, most of them Copts. 400 years later, Arabs invaded and conquered Egypt, bringing with them Islam. By the 11th century Christianity had spread across the country and half of Egypt’s population was Christian. The city of Alexandria with its renowned university was a Coptic spiritual hub. The Copts also created monasticism and still today, numerous monasteries remain of the hundreds that were scattered across the country.
Relations between Christians and Muslims began to deteriorate in modern times. Gamel Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, and became president of Egypt four years later. The Copts were severely affected by Nasser’s nationalization policies and as result, many Copts left during those years.