By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Nearly a year after uprisings tumbled repressive governments in North Africa and the Middle East, there are warnings the region’s minority Christians will face more persecution in 2012.
Despite a wave of popular revolts, known as ‘Arab Spring’, “the future is all but clear” for Christians in Muslim-dominated countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, warned Open Doors, an international watchdog supporting persecuted churches worldwide.
“Will 2012 bring more persecution and marginalization for Christians or greater liberty to worship? So far, the signs are not encouraging,” said Carl Moeller, who leads Open Doors USA.
While “many hail” the toppling of dictators as a “victory for democracy”, within Arab Spring there “are troubling incidents against Christians, even those in countries yet unreached by the revolutionary wave,” Moeller added.
The model unfolding in these lands “is far from Jeffersonian”, he explained. “A possible result is the law of mob rule, where Islamists are likely to control governments, exclude minority faiths even from police protection.” Christians, Moeller noted, “live in constant terror from the clear message: ‘There is no place here for Christians’.”
Especially in Egypt, where at least dozens of Christians were killed this year, the situation has been complicated by a political landscape in which the Islamists’ Muslim Brotherhood is holding some 40 percent of seats in the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
“It is a reality check for Coptic and evangelical Christians, who comprise 10 percent of [Egypt’s] population” of 80 million, Moeller explained. “Hardline Salafists are also doing well in the on-going election.”
Moeller said there are “significant reports of increased violence” against Christians. “We know Christians whose churches have been burned, and thousands who have been affected by extremist groups.”
Open Doors still hopes a new government produces “more protections for the Christians” but “that’s not necessarily something people are expecting,” Moeller stressed.
“Many are fearing there will be a decrease in the capacity of Christians to freely exercise their faith, as well as further restrictions on their public activity.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, known for hunting down Nazi war crimes suspects, also spoke out against the reported persecution of Egypt’s largest minority.
“For hundreds of years, Jews have known persecution, both political and religious,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in published remarks. “We know the particular virulence of the latter, and we therefore fear for Egypt’s Copts”, the word often used to identify Egyptian Christians. “They have suffered discrimination for decades as a vulnerable minority.
“What they face from a resurgence of Islamist fervor is something we would like not to think about, but moral outrage leaves us no choice.”
He said the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Egypt’s interim government “to demonstrate its commitment to her Christians by a visible and demonstrable security presence to protect her communities and institutions.”
His organization also tried persuading the world to “measure the success of Egypt’s experiment with democracy — as well as those of other countries that have thrown off the yoke of dictatorship — first and foremost by how well she guarantees religious liberties.”
The rabbi cautioned however that Egypt is not Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has refused to step down and a crackdown on anti-government protesters left thousands dead. Egypt “will respond to wall-to-wall pressure from the West. It is the job of all with a conscience to ensure that this pressure is applied.”
Coptic Christians reportedly fear that Islamic extremists are turning Egypt in “a wrong direction” after decades when they lived mainly peacefully with Muslim neighbors.
Thousands of Christians already left Egypt and Moeller believes another “mass exodus of Christians from Egypt would be disastrous.”
Moeller fears a similar situation as in Iraq where hundreds of thousands have either left or fled to the northern part of the country due to violence linked to Islamic extremism. “There were almost 1 million Christians in Iraq in the early 1990s but now only an estimated 345,000.” He said Open Doors asked supporters to “Pray that does not happen in Egypt….that there is not another religicide.”
Moeller’s team quoted an unidentified Egyptian Christian as saying: “We need to be one in Christ in this challenging chapter of our history. My wife and I want to stay here, but we know it will not be easy. Please, do not forget us and leave us alone.”
Christians in the Arab world are among some 100 million Christians who Open Doors claims “suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ” around the world, with “millions more” facing “discrimination and alienation”.
Open Doors says it supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer as well as “presence ministry and advocacy” on behalf of “suffering believers.” (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
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