Who Will Protect the Christians of the East?

15:00 29.03.2012 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



OVER THE PAST SEVEN YEARS, the number of physical reprisals and terrorist acts against Christians in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has increased by 309%.

The Arab Spring has added momentum to this process, causing it to snowball. By the end of last year, 200,000 Copts had left their homes to escape the repressions of the new Egyptian authorities. Notwithstanding the NATO contingents deployed in the country, the reprisals aimed against Christians in Iraq have reduced their numbers from one million to less than 500,000. According to UN data, in South Sudan, in spite of the world community's intermediation, between 53,000 and 75,000 people have been forced to leave their historical place of residence. Furthermore, they, like thousands of other Christian refugees from the East, have little chance of returning - their homes are being torn down and plundered.

Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, 25% of Christians of all confessions lived close to their main shrines in the Middle East, today this number has shrunk to less than 5%. It is worth noting that acts of vandalism and physical reprisals are frequently carried out with the tacit support or direct assistance of the governments of Muslim countries.

The West's main ally in the region - Saudi Arabia - occupies a particular place in this respect. More than one million Christians live in the country, although churches and even private prayer at home are prohibited. Special units of the religious police burst into the homes of Christians and punish the people praying there.

In Egypt, security forces were used against a peaceful demonstration of Copts who gathered to protest the reprisals and repressions. Police trucks drove into the crowd of protestors, running people down, which resulted in 24 people being killed and more than 300 injured. Support of and solidarity with Islamist radicals who kill not only Christians, but also Muslims and muftis critical of this action, seem to have paralyzed society in many countries of the East. Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, acknowledges that today Christian minorities in many Muslim countries have no public protection.

The aggressiveness and growing influence of the Salafis are instilling general fear, forcing even governments traditionally loyal to religious minorities to shy away from providing Christian citizens with unwavering protection. Jordan is a good case in point.

It has always been thought that Israel and Iran are the most tolerant countries toward Christians. Against the general background of the humanitarian disaster, this does indeed seem to be true. However, dozens of Christians were arrested in Iran for praying in "unsanctioned places," that is, outside churches. In Israel, Christians do not enjoy the same privileges as citizens of the Judaic religion; quotas are set for the number of monks permitted to serve in Orthodox monasteries.

The situation in the Palestinian National Autonomy is developing in a very particular and catastrophic way. "The number of Christians living in Palestinian cities," comments President of the Institute of the Middle East Yevgeny Satanovsky, "where they dominated before the Oslo Accords, is steadily decreasing. This process has become so widespread that there is reason to talk of the de-Christianization of the Holy Land. Today, Christians comprise only a little more than 10% of the residents of the capital of the Palestinian National Autonomy, Ramallah, whereas in the past they constituted more than 90%; correspondingly, Bethlehem's Christian population has dwindled from 85% to 12%... Ongoing Islamization of Palestine has been organized by local Islamist clans and is entirely supported by the authorities."

The fact that al-Qaeda is coming forward in defense of Christians today, while the Christian world remains silent, looks sadly odd, to say the least. The leaders of this terrorist organization are calling for Christians to be left alone so as not to give cause for external intervention.

According to Newsweek, the Christianphobia that has swept the Muslim East is escalating into genocide in terms of its dimensions and cruelty, and it is time for the whole world stood up and took notice. Nor can Russia, considering its authority in the Arab world, particularly in Palestine, stand on the sidelines.

The West's silence can primarily be explained by political reasons. A principled position on the protection of human rights and religious minorities in countries where revolutions have triumphed is fraught with serious complications in the relations with the new regimes.

Moreover, this would be an indirect admission of the fact that the West has been taking a passive stance rather than purposefully supporting healthy forces in the Muslim world. Another legitimate question arises: who is benefitting from the victories over the autocratic regimes of North Africa and the Middle East? We will learn about it fairly soon, but the time for deciding the fate of the Christians who have lived in the East for centuries has already run out.


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