Orthodox Copts open church in Switzerland

Pope Shenouda III has opened the orthodox Coptic community's first church in Switzerland.

His recent visit to Geneva and to the town of St Maurice is expected to give this Christian minority a higher profile in Switzerland.

“The inauguration of the first Coptic church in Meyrin [near Geneva] shows the importance of the diaspora for His Holiness Shenouda III,” said Wahid Hassab Alla, a Coptic theologian, who has lived in Switzerland for 27 years.

The Coptic Church, whose origins lie in ancient Egypt, has only about 1,000 followers in Switzerland.

The first Copts came in the 1960s. Most of them were students or people who tried to escape poverty in search of work.

“The wave of immigrants coincides with the launch of the socialist revolution by Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt,” recalled Georges Abi-Saab of Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies.


For many years Egypt’s Coptic community felt it had been the victim of religious persecution, according to Abi-Saab.

But the frustration was also rooted in President Nasser’s privatisation programme, as many Copts belonged to Egypt’s affluent upper class.

Tension between the Copts and growing Islamic movements added to the perception that orthodox Christians were discriminated against in the Egyptian society.

“But the main reason for emigration remains the poor economic prospects for Copts and members of other religious denominations in Egypt,” said Hassab Alla.

Despite a life in exile, the Coptic community has managed to keep alive its traditions over the centuries.