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ICC Note: The last ten years have marked a season of persecution that has driven nearly all of the Christian minority from their homes and communities. Countries such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have been unable to provide religious freedom even in the presence of an election process and a reflection of religious freedom in their constitutions. Iraq and Syria are overrun by a militant group known as ISIS as they try to establish a purely Islamic state (caliph). With this persecution rapidly pointing to an end in Christianity, radical forms of Islam are beginning to take root. This may signal a larger death of secularism throughout the Middle East.

07/25/14 Middle East (The Guardian) – The past decade has been catastrophic for the Arab world’s beleaguered 12 million strong Christian minority. In Egypt revolution and counter-revolution have been accompanied by a series of anti-Copt riots, killings and church burnings. In Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian Christians are emigrating en masse as they find themselves uncomfortably caught between Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni neighbours.

In Syria most of the violence is along the Sunni-Alawite fault line, but stories of rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, who used to make up around 10% of the population, have emerged. Many have already fled to camps in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan; the ancient Armenian community of Aleppo is reported to be moving en masse to Yerevan.

The worst affected areas of Syria are of course those controlled by Isis. Last weekend it issued a decree offering the dwindling Christian population of eastern Syria and northern Iraq a choice: convert to Islam or pay a special religious levy – the jizya. If they did not comply, “there is nothing to give them but the sword”. The passing of the deadline led to possibly the largest exodus of Middle Eastern Christians since the Armenian massacres during the First World War, with the entire Christian community of Mosul heading off towards Kirkuk and the relative religious tolerance of the Kurdish zone.

Even before this latest exodus, at least two-thirds of Iraqi Christians had fled since the fall of Saddam. Christians were concentrated in Mosul, Basra and, especially, Baghdad – which before the US invasion had the largest Christian population in the Middle East. Although Iraq’s 750,000 Christians made up only 7% of the pre-war population, they were a prosperous minority under the Ba’athists, as symbolised by the high profile of Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, who used to disarm visiting foreign dignitaries by breaking into Onward, Christian Soldiers in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

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