Coalition seeks to discourage Christians from fleeing ME

Yalla Peace: Extremists drive them away. It is up to governments to convince them to stay.

July 19, 2011 23:01
3 minute read.
A Christian woman at a church in Damascus.

Syrian Christian_311 reuters. (photo credit: Khaled Al Hariri / Reuters)


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Not many in the Middle East care about the plight of Christians.They are marginalized on both sides of the Arab-Israeli line.

But regardless of the reasons, the numbers of Christians have dwindled over the years, in part because Christians can more easily emigrate to Western - predominantly Christian – nations.

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In Jordan, one of the Arab countries where Christians feel safest, a coalition including Muslim and Christian clergymen, politicians and journalists are launching a campaign to convince Christians to stay.

The group is called “Gathering for Confronting Emigration of Arab Christians” and its concern is not just the flight of Christian Arabs from Israel and Israeli-occupied territories. It is equally alarmed about the flight of Christians from overwhelmingly Muslim/Arab countries.

I applaud them for their courage, but the coalition should expand its fight and include confronting the biggest threat to the Arab Christian minority – threats from extremists, Jewish and Muslim, who target Christians for their moderate views.

Statistics show that the percentage of Christians among the populations of the Middle East has fallen from 20 percent 100 years ago to about 5% today.

Not all of that is due to Christian Arab “flight.” Much has to do with the Westernized culture that Christian Arabs embrace. They tend to have fewer children than Muslims and Jews, and therefore their numbers will drop as a result of slower population growth.

Christians are also a primary target of extremists, especially in the Arab world, where fanatics single them out because of their moderate views – advocating peace and compromise – and their rejection of violence as a means of resistance or revolution.

Christians are easy targets for the extremists because they do not have the support groups that are available to Muslims and Jews. Christian Arab support groups are meek, disorganized, and not as influential as pro-Jewish and pro-Muslim groups. Especially over the past two decades, with the rise of Jewish nationalism in Israel and Islamist politics in the Arab world, Christian organizations have been pushed aside.

IN WESTERN nations such as the US, Christians who once could find refuge in secular Arab organizations are finding that the power base is shifting to those Islamic organizations which have a stronger voice. While Jews have fought for the rights of Jews worldwide, and Muslims fight for the rights of Muslims, Christians in the West are oblivious to the challenges facing their brethren in the Middle East.

If the coalition wants to encourage Christians to stay in the Middle East, it will need to do more than simply urge them to stay. Muslims in the Arab world and Jews in Israel need to stand up and speak out against the extremists. It’s not only good to protect Christian Arabs, but also to protect their own moderate communities.

The extremists recognize that Christians, with their Western-leaning affiliations, are more inclined to practicing democracy; as a minority group, they know what it’s like to fight uphill battles for recognition and equality.

Their challenges vary in Israel and the Arab world. In Israel, they face the same tensions that Muslim Arabs face. The Christian population in the occupied territories has fallen dramatically, from 25 percent before the 1967 war to just over 1% since. It’s easy for Christians to get lost in the larger regional debates.

In the Arab world, though, the challenges are even more subtle, since many Muslims become angry when Christians complain of discrimination. It is considered haram (a sin) to even discuss the issue.

Egypt has the largest Christian minority, followed by Syria. It is one reason why many Christians are conflicted over the protests against the Syrian government, which has given Christians greater protections and a louder voice in national affairs.

Christians are showcased when patronizing them has a political value, but are often not consulted on high-profile issues. And to make matters worse, Christians in the West do not view Christian Arabs as equals, and often confuse them with Muslims.

The coalition is courageous for bringing this topic up, but until the Arab world is more willing to stand up to its own extremist elements little will change.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist. He can be reached at

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