ICC Note: The Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch John X Al Yazigi met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi this week. The meeting between such important figures demonstrates a marked difference from the reality faced by Christians in many places throughout the Arab world. Christians have been facing intense suffering, not just as a vulnerable minority in the midst of political upheaval, but directly as the targets of sectarian rhetoric that has incited violence along religious lines.
05/13/2014 United Arab Emirates (The National) – A gesture can sometimes speak more loudly than actions. Witness the meetings this week between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and two Christian leaders. The sight of the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X Al Yazigi, at the Sea Palace, spoke volumes about the openness and respect in this country for Christians.
Such openness is in marked contrast to the experience of Christians elsewhere in the region. Arab Christians in the Middle East belong chiefly to the Coptic and Orthodox branches of the faith, with large numbers of Indians and Filipinos being Catholic. The upheaval of the past few years has not been easy for them.
In Egypt, Syria and Iraq, Christians are sometimes targeted merely for their faith. An Israeli newspaper this week bravely admitted that Christians in Palestine are better treated than Arab Christians in Israel. Given that Palestinian Christians suffer all the woes of the occupation, that is quite a statement. The Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, will visit Jordan, Israel and Palestine this month for the first time, with these thoughts very much on his mind.
The treatment of Christians across the Middle East is part and parcel of two issues. The first is the general upheaval of the societies: the invasion and occupation of Iraq meant Iraqis of all faiths were affected, as were the Egyptians during the revolution, as are all Syrians caught in its civil war.
The second is the rise of sectarian rhetoric, which has led to attacks on Sunnis, Shia and Christians merely for their religion. This has been the case in every country of the Arab Spring, but it has been exacerbated by irresponsible political actors.