“The rise of Islamist movements in countries swept by the Arab revolutions has sent shudders through the region’s Christians who fear for their survival and question the future make-up of the Middle East,” Agence France-Presse reports.
By Rita Daou
12/14/2011 Middle East (AFP) – The rise of Islamist movements in countries swept by the Arab revolutions has sent shudders through the region’s Christians who fear for their survival and question the future make-up of the Middle East.
“Christians are rightly concerned,” said Odon Vallet, a French historian and expert on religion. “Their future in the region is rather bleak… and the current political climate is not in their favour.
“Thirty or 40 years ago, they had a better status,” he added. “You notice that in one generation the situation changed as Islamism became a sort of refuge to counter Western tendencies.”
Although Christians in the mainly Muslim Arab world for decades have felt vulnerable, with each war or crisis prompting a mini exodus, the Arab Spring has revived the debate as to their very existence in the region.
Many point to Iraq where the number of Christians has drastically fallen since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as many fled overseas in the face of deadly persecution by Muslim extremists.
The number of Iraqi Christians currently stands at about 400,000, from an estimated 800,000-1.2 million before the 2003 US-led invasion.
In Egypt, the Christian Coptic community has also been the target of sectarian attacks.
And in Syria there are fears among the Christian minority that Islamic extremists could rise to power should the regime of Bashar al-Assad collapse.
The Christian communities’ fears are fed by the fact that while the Arab revolts that began a year ago initially appeared to be largely secular in character, that has changed as Islamist parties gradually came to the forefront, winning elections in Tunisia and Egypt.
In Libya, the new rulers said the country would make Islamic sharia law the main source of legislation.
Lebanon is the only Arab country where Christians still play a key role in politics.