Copt killings heighten Christian alarm
Christians are on the run throughout the Muslim dominated Middle East.
1/7/2010 Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territory (UPI) — Drive-by Muslim gunmen killed seven Christians near Luxor as they left a midnight mass for the Coptic Christmas Wednesday night.
Days earlier, Christians across northern Iraq were attacked by Muslim zealots over the Yuletide season, as they have been since Iraq collapsed into sectarian chaos in 2003.
The Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity and home to some of the most ancient sects. But across the Muslim-dominated region, Christians are on the run.
There is no definitive figure for the number of Christians in the region, but it is estimated to be at most 10 million out of a total population of more than 400 million.
A region that was 20 percent Christian a century ago is now about 2 percent — and that’s dropping fast.
Islam, founded by the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, became the dominant religion in the region as the Muslim empire expanded.
Since that time only Lebanon managed to keep a Christian majority (until the mid-20th century anyway), although Egypt’s 7 million Copts, descended from the ancient Egyptians, constitute the single largest Christian community in the Arab world.
Other communities, distinct minorities, still exist in Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Jordan. There are even Christians in Iran, where the largest church is the Armenian Apostolic Church, which dates back to 300 AD.
There has been a Christian presence in Iraq since the 2nd century, mainly adherents of the Chaldean and Assyrian churches.
In Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, much of the fighting was between the Maronite Catholics, the dominant Christian sect, and a Muslim coalition.
Yet Lebanon remains the only Arab state with a Christian president, a Maronite, under a 1943 political covenant dividing political power between the multitude of sects in the former French colony.