Christians and the “Arab Spring”

The uprising against authoritarian rule in the Arab world leaves Christians in a precarious position.  Ask the Copts in Egypt:

The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region.

“Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?” asked Sarkis Naoum, a Christian commentator in Beirut, Lebanon. A surge of sectarian violence in Cairo — 24 dead, more than 200 wounded and three churches in flames since President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall — has turned Christian-Muslim tensions into one of the gravest threats to the revolution’s stability. But it is also a pivotal test of Egypt’s tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law. The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.

Around the region, Christians are also closely watching events in Syria, where as in Egypt Christians and other minorities received the protection of a secular dictator, Bashar al-Assad, now facing his own popular uprising.

“The Copts are the crucial test case,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch here, adding that facing off against “societal pressures” may in some ways be ever harder than criticizing a dictator. “It is the next big battle.”

But so far, there is little encouragement in the debate over how to address the sectarian strife. Instead of searching for common ground, all sides are pointing fingers of blame while almost no one is addressing the underlying reasons for the strife, including a legal framework that treats Muslims and Christians differently.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the 80 million Egyptians, say the revolution has plunged them into uncharted territory. Suppressed or marginalized for six decades here, Islamists entering politics have rushed to defend an article of the Egyptian Constitution that declares Egypt a Muslim country that derives its laws from Islam. Christians and liberals say privately they abhor the provision, which was first added as a populist gesture by President Anwar el-Sadat. But the article is so popular among Muslims — and the meaning so vague — that even many liberals and Christians entering politics are reluctant to speak out against it, asking at most for slight modifications.

via Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists – NYTimes.com.

HT:  Kirk Anderson

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Cincinnatus

    B-b-but democracy!

    Meet the new boss, [worse than] the old boss.

  • Cincinnatus

    B-b-but democracy!

    Meet the new boss, [worse than] the old boss.

  • Louis

    My MP here in SK made the cause of Christians in the Middle East, especially Copts, his own. He is Maurice Vellacot, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, SK.

  • Louis

    My MP here in SK made the cause of Christians in the Middle East, especially Copts, his own. He is Maurice Vellacot, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, SK.

  • Cincinnatus

    Louis, being the “heartland isolationist” that I am, I cannot help but wonder: what does an MP from Bumfark, High Plains, Canada believe that he can do to ameliorate the sufferings of Christians on the other side of the globe due to political contingencies entirely beyond Canada’s control?

  • Cincinnatus

    Louis, being the “heartland isolationist” that I am, I cannot help but wonder: what does an MP from Bumfark, High Plains, Canada believe that he can do to ameliorate the sufferings of Christians on the other side of the globe due to political contingencies entirely beyond Canada’s control?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Not just democracy, Cincinnatus (@1), but democracy plus a strict adherence to the literal words of their Constitution!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Not just democracy, Cincinnatus (@1), but democracy plus a strict adherence to the literal words of their Constitution!

  • Cincinnatus

    Are “virgin tests” enumerated in the constitution? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369259/Egypt-protests-Women-forced-virginity-checks-arrests-Tahir-Square.html

    These are supposed to be the “good” guys!

    (yes, that’s the Daily Mail, but it’s corroborated by other sources–including Amnesty International)

  • Cincinnatus

    Are “virgin tests” enumerated in the constitution? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369259/Egypt-protests-Women-forced-virginity-checks-arrests-Tahir-Square.html

    These are supposed to be the “good” guys!

    (yes, that’s the Daily Mail, but it’s corroborated by other sources–including Amnesty International)

  • Louis

    Cin, helping to get refugees out is a good thing. And highlighting their plight. Maybe that is not much, but it is better than enjoying a great view of your lungs.

  • Louis

    Cin, helping to get refugees out is a good thing. And highlighting their plight. Maybe that is not much, but it is better than enjoying a great view of your lungs.

  • Cincinnatus

    Louis, fair enough, I guess, in that there are certainly worse things your MP could be doing (corruption, raising taxes, etc.). But I don’t look to my elected representatives to “highlight” various issues of humanitarian concern. I simply can’t see myself voting for a candidate because he “spoke out” about an issue over which he has absolutely no control. I vote for candidates because, in my estimation, they will govern my community well and represent its interests, not those of a small community in Egypt.

  • Cincinnatus

    Louis, fair enough, I guess, in that there are certainly worse things your MP could be doing (corruption, raising taxes, etc.). But I don’t look to my elected representatives to “highlight” various issues of humanitarian concern. I simply can’t see myself voting for a candidate because he “spoke out” about an issue over which he has absolutely no control. I vote for candidates because, in my estimation, they will govern my community well and represent its interests, not those of a small community in Egypt.

  • steve

    “Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?”

    Full citizenship? Probably. Equal right? Well, we can just look at the historical examples. How many majority-Mulsim countries have taken freedom of religion seriously? I count one; and that only because the Shia and Sunni of Lebanon are as equally distrusting of each other as they are the Christians.

  • steve

    “Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?”

    Full citizenship? Probably. Equal right? Well, we can just look at the historical examples. How many majority-Mulsim countries have taken freedom of religion seriously? I count one; and that only because the Shia and Sunni of Lebanon are as equally distrusting of each other as they are the Christians.

  • Louis

    Cin, as I’m still awaiting my citizenship here, I can’t vote yet. But when the time comes, there will be many factors to consider regarding where my vote goes. I’m not a party loyalist.

  • Louis

    Cin, as I’m still awaiting my citizenship here, I can’t vote yet. But when the time comes, there will be many factors to consider regarding where my vote goes. I’m not a party loyalist.


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