Intense debate followed a bishop’s controversial announcement about the exact number of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Bishop Basenti of the diocese of Helwan and Massara told a seminar on citizenship that the Copt population was â€œbetween 10 million and 15 millionâ€.
The bishop said the figure was accurate.â€œFormer US President Jimmy Carter and a bishop in Australia gave similar figures,â€ he added. While Bishop Basenti’s endorsements were received with reservations, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Consensus (CAPMAS) declined to comment. CAPMAS has also been accused of deliberately keeping the exact number of Copts a secret for unknown reasons. The outspoken Coptic thinker, Kamal Zakher said: â€œCAPMAS should be more transparent regarding the exact number of Copts in this country.â€ The bishop’s statement roused suspicion that the Egyptian Orthodox Church had carried out its own census. Bishop Basenti’s figures were dismissed as â€œexaggeratedâ€ , in order to â€œtwist government officials’ arms for approval to build more churchesâ€. Georgette Kelleni, a member of the Synod of the Orthodox Church, rejected the claim, saying that frustrating a Copts’ plans to build churches was nothing new. Kelleni urged officials to reveal the exact number of Egyptian Copts. At this moment, she, like Bishop Basenti, can only make an estimate: 10 million. â€œAbout 30 years ago, Copts made up 15 per cent (6 million people) of the population,â€ she said, by way of supporting her previous statement. â€œNow there must be at 10 million Copts.â€ Kelleni said the Church should conduct a consensus. Suspicions were reinforced when Bishop Basenti claimed he had secretly taken a census of Copts in his diocese. He later admitted that the count included adherents of the Catholic and Protestant persuasions. He puts the number of Copts at 9 million and Protestants at 1 million. â€œThere are 1 million Copts overseas. Half a million live in the US; 200,000 in Australia; 200,000 in Canada and 100,000 in Europe,â€ he said.In an interview with the weekly magazine Al-Moussawar, the bishop said the figures were only approximations.