Christians throughout the Middle East are living in the midst of radically changing circumstances. The various political movements, regime changes, civil wars, and terrorist attacks can have terrible consequences for those on the fringes of society, as Christians generally are. In Iraq, for example, the Christian population has shrunk by 87% from 1.5 million to just 200,000. Though there is intense suffering there are amazing things happening as well and there is hard work to be done to pursue a better future.
By Steve Dew-Jones
7/7/2013 Middle East (World Watch Monitor) – Middle Eastern Christians are experiencing one of the most significant periods in their history, according to religious and political leaders meeting in London last week.
Regime changes in Egypt and Iran, and sectarian violence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, have presented an opportunity for the Christian minority to speak out, or for international bodies to advocate on their behalf.
Rev. Andrew White, the pastor of an Anglican church in Baghdad, spoke of the “terrible suffering” of Iraq’s Christian community. He said that in the last 10 years since Saddam Hussein was toppled, 1026 members of his congregation had been killed – 58 within one day.
White said that in the last decade, Iraq’s Christian population had shrunk from 1.5 million to around 200,000.
As Egypt adapts to its second regime change in two years, Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Church in the UK, said Egyptians are beginning to embrace their identity as Egyptians, rather than only as part of a group of distinct communities.
“It was unheard of before two years ago that Egyptian flags would be flying on the streets because people felt that they were not really part of a single nation state, so they reverted to their own religion, whether Christian or Muslim,” he said.
The Bishop said that one Muslim Brotherhood leader said he felt closer to an Indonesian Muslim than a Coptic Christian because of the concept of the nation of Islam, the Ummah.
In this way, he said former President Mohamed Morsi’s religious-led government had highlighted the distinctions between the different faith communities, rather than brought people together.
In the wake of the overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and with reference also to the situation for Christians in Iran, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said he had yet to be persuaded that a truly Islamic state could grant its citizens religious freedom.
“Very prominent church leaders have said in my presence that a truly Islamic state will guarantee the freedoms of non-Muslims. Well I beg to differ! I don’t think there is a single historical instance of this happening anywhere,” he said.
The Bishop said countries in the Middle East must learn from the case of Egypt and look beyond the ideal of democracy.
“Democracy is not enough,” he said. “It can simply mean the feeling of the majority. In the Egyptian context, the question is not achieving power through the ballot box, but whether there is a willingness to give up power through the ballot box. That’s the other test of democracy.”