09/14/2021 Middle East (International Christian Concern) – Several countries across the Middle East North Africa region have utilized the time of a global pandemic to restore its religious and cultural sites in order to better present faith tourism as countries open up for travel again. However, the efforts to promote faith tourism should not be confused with religious freedom. Middle Eastern countries with a reputation and history of restricting religious freedom can and do still promote tourism built around religious identities that do not enjoy full privileges in their country.
Egypt for example recently launched the Holy Family Trail and committed to the restoration of many historical Christian sites. Yet, domestic Christians remain disadvantaged and discriminated against. Iraq recently received the largest shipment of returned looted artifacts, with many linking back to Biblical accounts. Even Turkey has committed to the restoration of a Syriac church, although its actions nearly everywhere else indicate its increasing hold on restricting religious freedom.
The manipulation of religious sites for Christians and other religious minorities is another way that several Middle Eastern countries exploit them for their benefit. As countries begin to open up for more tourism post-pandemic, it will be important for the international community to not accept the restoration of religious sites for faith tourism as improvements towards the country’s religious minority rights.
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