FaithWorld

Mideast Christians struggle to hope in Arab Spring, some see no spring at all

(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the period of interfaith unity on February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.

Since then, violent attacks on churches by Salafists — a radical Islamist movement once held in check by the region’s now weakened or toppled authoritarian regimes — have convinced Christians their lot has not really improved and could get worse.

(Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria Antonios Naguib in Venice, 21 June 2011/Tom Heneghan)

“If things don’t change for the better, we’ll return to what was before, maybe even worse,” Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria Antonios Naguib said at a conference this week in Venice on the Arab Spring and Christian-Muslim relations. “But we hope that will not come about,” he told Reuters.

No Christmas festivities for some Iraqi Christians

iraq christmas (Photo: Refugee Iraqi Christians attend a pre-Christmas mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman December 22, 2010/Ali Jarekji)

Some church leaders in Iraq have told Christians not to celebrate Christmas except with prayer after lethal attacks and continuing threats by militants against the Iraqi Christian community.

“No Santa Claus, no celebrations, no gifts this year,” Archbishop Louis Sako, chairman of the Chaldean archbishops in Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya, said on Wednesday. “We don’t have the right to jeopardize others’ lives.”

In a new threat published on an Islamist website, the local affiliate of al Qaeda threatened more attacks against Iraqi Christians. Insurgent attacks have panicked Iraq’s minority Christian community. Thousands have fled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region or overseas.

Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling

baghdad-church-1A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq’s minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.

Iraqi Christians, one of the country’s weakest ethnic or  religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.

While Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims killed each other by the dozen at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, Christians were rarely targeted, although sometimes they were.