From Arab Spring to Christian Winter

Persecution of Christians in the region has gone from being a common, though technically illegal, phenomenon, to being legal and widespread, due primarily to the resulting shift in power from secular rule to Muslim- Shari’a domination and concomitant rising hostility towards minority Christians.

By Georgiana Constantin | July 29, 2013

In the Middle East and North Africa, the ongoing civil wars of an increasingly sectarian nature are reportedly putting more and more Christians in harm’s way.

The effects of the Arab Spring on Christian populations are obvious, and, as of late, so is the reported implication of U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama in this revolutionary phenomenon, particularly since his June 2009 Cairo speech, (the subtext of which was the necessity of change). Encouraging women and especially the young to bring about change, Obama emboldened his Cairo University audience saying, “Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur…But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.” As such, the people seem to have taken the speech to heart, as evidenced by their 2011 demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square that swept President Hosni Mubarak from three decades of authoritarian rule that February.

Persecution of Christians in the region has gone from being a common, though technically illegal, phenomenon, to being legal and widespread, due primarily to the resulting shift in power from secular rule to Muslim-Sharia domination and concomitant rising hostility towards minority Christians.

Beginning with December 2010, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt (twice), Libya, and Yemen; civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria; and, protests have broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Western Sahara. All of these conflicts have left in their wake the tragedy of a people who are suffering horrendous human rights violations.

In Tunisia, although democratic reformation seemed a real possibility in the first few months after the Arab Spring began, reports of Christian persecution have increased in the past year and in October 2011 the post-revolution election was won by the Ennahda party, which stated that they wanted Tunisia to become a country under Sharia law. This situation would mean even more suffering for the Christians there. Muslims apparently outnumber Christians in Tunisia 25,000-to-1 and, even though its constitution guarantees religious freedom, evangelism is illegal.

Inspired by the events in Tunisia, Egyptians who had already forced Mubarak to resign, elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi with 51 percent of the vote by June 2012. However, after the military ousted him on July 3rd, the situation of Christians deteriorated even more. As the Constitution in Egypt, under Morse, leaned toward Sharia Law, more converts to Christianity were killed.

In regards to these atrocities, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury has been quoted as saying, “extremists were filling vacuums left by the ousting of autocratic regimes, leading to Copts being targeted in Egypt.” He warned about how tensions in Syria between the Christians and the Muslim communities were reaching a breaking point and added that in northern Iraq, “ethnic cleansing” of Christians was taking place.

As the Arab Spring raged on, Libya joined the emerging caliphate. The main sources of persecution for Christians there seem to be families, communities, fanatical armed groups and, to a lesser extent, the government. Also, importing of Arabic Scriptures is strictly forbidden and missionary activity is officially prohibited. Many Libyan Christians are fleeing their homeland and the situation will most likely not change even with a new constitution, Open Doors reports.

As a logical next chapter in this not so fortuitous chain of events, Syria is now part of the struggle. British newspaper The Telegraph gives an estimated number of 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013, a number which includes Christians and other minorities. Here, vehemently intolerant actions guided by war have led to full-scale atrocities like the al-Duvair village massacre, which took place in May of this year, when, according to AINA, the Assyrian International News Agency based in Tehran, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) reportedly attacked the Christian village killing all civilians, including women and children.

Even in theoretically secular Middle Eastern societies such as Turkey, Christian discrimination is widespread, and “apostates” – Muslim converts to Christianity or other faiths – reportedly face severe penalties and sometimes life threatening situations (such as the Malatya Christians murders). In other parts of the Muslim world, the problem of apostates is apparently greater, as death seems to be the norm for non-Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Yemen prefer using as punishment confiscation of property and annulment of marriages, “honor” killings by family members, detentions, imprisonment, torture and physical intimidation.

Christianity, and all of its followers in the predominantly Muslim countries are no doubt in danger and, even though a Christian Middle East isn’t exactly a familiar idea, this nowadays principally Occidental religion traces its very roots back to this region of the Orient, where it was founded by Jesus Christ some 2,013 years ago. The population there is therefore the most ancient in the Christian world. In 313 A.D. Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire, once the Edict of Milan was signed, under Constantine the Great. That event marked the beginning of Christianity’s journey alongside European Empires.

In fact, that Christians today are purportedly targeted in greater numbers than any other faith group comes as a surprise to many. A survey from 2007 found that some 200 million believers, or 10% of the total worldwide, are oppressed in one way or another. Apparently, the problem also extends outside of the Islamic world and includes India, the communist world, and even to Buddhist-majority societies, such as Burma and Sri Lanka.

Georgiana Constantin is a Romanian law school graduate and has studied European, international and Romanian law. She recently completed her thesis on the UN and global governance at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.