By Terry Mattingly Modified: August 12, 2013 at 9:59 am •  Published: August 12, 2013

"Egypt is the rare case in which people are actually comfortable with the fact that others are not free to practice their faith," said Sahgal, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Many Egyptians even see this low level of religious toleration "as a good thing. ... You don't even see this in a nation like Pakistan, where at least -- in theory -- people believe others should be able to practice their faith to some degree," she said in a telephone interview.

It is especially significant that a majority of Egyptian Muslims believe sharia law should govern the lives of all Egyptians, not just Muslim believers. Compared with most other Muslim lands, a much higher percentage of Muslims polled in Egypt want sharia law to control both criminal and public laws, as well as "domestic" laws affecting marriage and family life. Among the vast majority of Egyptian Muslims who support sharia, noted Sahgal, 86 percent favor the death penalty for Muslims who convert to another religion.

None of this is new, stressed Tadros. Coptic believers died in massacres and churches burned in the Mubarak era, as well as in the tumultuous months since Muslims, Christians and secular liberals rallied together in Cairo's most famous public space during the Arab Spring rallies that sought real change.

The prevailing attitude nationwide is that "Christians are supposed to pray at home and stop trying to build all those humongous churches with big domes and crosses on top," he said. "Egypt is an Islamic state and Christians should not be doing anything that calls that into dispute. ...

"That's what people believe all across the real Egypt. It's crucial to remember that there is more to Egypt than Cairo and there is more to Cairo than Tahrir Square."

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the project to study religion and the news.)

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at

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