Remember our fellow Christians this Christmas….

Tahrir Square Celebration in Arab spring

It is sometimes easy to forget that there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and their lot is not generally a happy one. There was an important but little reported debate in Parliament last Friday.

Rowan Williams has highlighted his conecern for them in a parlimentary debate. He said:

At the moment, most of these communities urgently want to know whether the Arab spring will be good or bad news for them, and for other non-Muslim or non-majority presences.

This is the concern that is facing many Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. Whilst there was autocratic rule many of the Christian communities in the Middle East enjoyed some level of protection. With the collapse of some of these dictatorships the question left is what will replace them.

Others who commented include Chris Pattern, ex cabinet minister and last governor of Hong Kong, (and ex-chancellor of my old university!) who said

We are facing religious cleansing in parts of the Middle East and may be entering what might be thought of as an Arab winter for Christians, Jews and other minority groups alike on a scale that we have not hitherto seen.

In the recent Egyptian protests Christians played a part, with their Muslim neighbours, in pushing for greater freedom. The recent elections has seen the rise of two key players in Egypt. The muslim brotherhood which came out as the largest party and the more radical salafists took second place with 24% of the vote. The concern is what sort of country will Egypt now become. Christians have suffered much in recent years as I have commented on before and again here.

If Egypt and other Middle East countries wish to show that there really is an Arab Spring then a move to democracy must include the respect of minorities. As Rowan is quoted as saying

The treatment of Christian communities would be a “litmus test” of the success of the Arab spring, he added.

This Christmas we need to pray for these ancient communities in the Middle East who descendents of the earliest Christian communities in the world.

The key, for the moment, in Egypt, is what line the muslim brotherhood takes. If they go down the route that the islamist party in Turky – The Justice and Development party that has embraced democracy – there is hope that a real democratic society can evolve in Egypt. But even in the “best case” scenario such as Turkey there will still be persecution and discrimination against Christians, just as there is in Turkey.

We also need to understand that although democracy should be an important element of creating freedom for people it can’t do the whole job. The other part is that the Arab Spring came about in part because of social deprivation and high unemployment. The age profile of the Middle East is also a young one and the number of young people entering the jobs market will increase until 2020. This could have explosive consequences on the region and fuel parties such as the salafists in Egypt with awful consequences for minorities and regional stability.

Until countries such as the UK and US take the persecution seriously there is unlikely to be much change. With the Republican front runner Newt Gingrich talking of all Palestinians as “terrorists” (forgetting that many Palestinians are Christian and many are non-violent) I don’t think that we will see much hope from the US.

So, this Christmas, lets remember those Christians in the Middle East facing a very uncertain future and lets pray that the Arab Spring leads to real democracy and securing the rights of minorities.


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