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ICC Note
ICC is has written extensivley on this subject. It’s good to see the secular press pick up on it.

Christians are Leaving the Middle East

The region where Christianity was born is rapidly losing its Christian population due to low birth rates and emigration. Some analysts warn about the negative consequences for the region.

Christian Populations in the Middle East

There are between 12 and 15 million Christians in the Middle East, almost half of them living in Egypt . The exact figures are hard to establish because of the lack of official records and continued migration. Lebanon , with slightly more than one-million Christians, has the highest ratio: about 30 percent of its population is Christian. Most other Middle Eastern countries are less then 10 percent Christian.

Demographers say the Christian population has declined noticeably in most Middle Eastern countries since the beginning of the 20th century. Fred Strickert, professor of religion at Wartburg College in Iowa , says Christians became a minority in the Middle East after the spread of Islam during the 7th Century, but they continued to play an important role, until the decline of the Ottoman Empire .

“In 1908, there was an internal revolution. They called it the Young Turks’ revolt. A new group of people came into power and many of them were very biased against the Christians,” says Professor Strickert. “They were attempting to draft them into the army and things like that. There was a mass migration from all places in the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria, and Jerusalem – and, by then, many of the Christians, partly because of Christian missionaries, had benefited from schools and hospitals, and sought better conditions in the West for economics. And so, there was a large migration at the very beginning of the 20th Century.”

Professor Strickert says, there also appears to be a decline in Christian populations in Iraq and territories under Palestinian control. A 2003 Israeli study shows that about 12.000 Christians fled historically Christian Palestinian towns, such as Bethlehem , Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000. Some Palestinians blame the Israeli government’s security measures, such as building a security barrier between parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank .

” Bethlehem is especially hard hit by the wall,” says Philip Farah, a Washington area Palestinian-American who left the region in 1975. “The wall cuts through a lot of people’s properties. And if the property is cut by the separation wall, then they stand to lose the part of the property that is on the other side.” Philip Farah says the security barrier, as well as Israeli checkpoints make it very hard for Christians from the West Bank and Gaza to maintain business, family and social ties with Christians in Israel . He says many who were able to leave, have done so.

Some observers say Christians in the Middle East have fared better under secular governments. Jonathan Adelman, professor of political science at the University of Denver, Colorado, says the rise of fundamentalist Islam is a concern.

“When they hear that Sharia law needs to be introduced, which basically means that Christians cannot testify in court as equals, that they are inferior – this is something that is very hard for any minority in the world, does not matter if they are Christians or not – very hard to understand or to accept in the 21st century, which is about tolerance and is about modernity. That’s why we’ve had millions of them get up and flee to other parts of the world, where they don’t feel threatened.”