Testing the winds of the Arab Spring

The fate of Christians in Middle Eastern countries that have undergone revolutions is usually a strong indicator of whether or not the changes were a success for democratic freedom.

coptic christian protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
coptic christian protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The West has developed a bad habit of jumping to conclusions. Perhaps we should consider the maxim, “Don’t trust anyone who says, ‘Trust me’” without clear evidence of a favorable basis for trust. For example, it seems certain now that the rush to endorse the recent “democratic” revolution in Egypt was a leap into wishful thinking. Ousting former president Hosni Mubarak for an apparently leaderless mob demonstrated high hopes without sufficient evidence that the move would improve the situation for the Egyptians, Israel, the region, or the West.
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With the Muslim Brotherhood now poised to take the reins of power, we may well witness yet another dose of harsh reality, where radicalism sweeps away the dreams of a more reasonable world order. This problem is no minor blip. Zealous young idealists in Egypt and other Muslim countries, as well as the neophyte meddlers in the West, may well find they’ve been “had” by the dark forces of jihadist theocrats.
Zalman Shovel, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, was quoted recently in The Jerusalem Post as saying, “There is no such thing as a better devil.” Mr. Shoval is correct. In the world of the Islamic, Sharia-driven caliphate, a “better devil” does not exist. Nevertheless, politicians, pundits, and would-be social engineers insist that better instincts and nobler aspirations will win out.
While waiting to see which way the wind will blow, it seems to me these people should avail themselves of a test that may reliably indicate things to come in the newly minted world of the Middle East.
The treatment of Christians usually tells the story. If the “spontaneous” eruptions for change turn out to have been orchestrated by Islamists who believe their day has come, the future for Christians will be, to say the least, bleak; and the fallout for the entire region and the West will be dismal. Once ensconced, the repressive Islamist theocrats will be impossible to root out.
Empirical evidence can be found in Bethlehem, where Christians have not fared well under Palestinian Authority (PA) rule since the imposition of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Endemic violence and xenophobia have meant that Christians now comprise only 1.7 of the population in Palestinian areas. Professor Justus Reid Weiner, an attorney and scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), wrote a book on the subject entitled “Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society.”
Weiner makes the following observations:
“Tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to live abroad, while those who remain do so as a beleaguered and dwindling minority…Their plight is, in part, attributable to the adoption of Muslim religious law (Sharia) in the constitution of the Palestinian Authority. [This is also true of the Hamas charter governing Gaza and now unified with the PA]. Moreover, the Christians have been abandoned by their religious leaders who, instead of protecting them, have chosen to curry favor with the Palestinian leadership.”
Weiner’s analysis is being certified in a pattern developing as Islamists operate under cover of regime change. Meanwhile in Egypt, radicals are stepping up their attacks on Coptic Christians. On May 9 at least 12 Christians were killed and more than 200 injured when Muslims assaulted two churches and nearby homes and businesses. Compass Direct News reported that the attacks “were the most serious of a string of attacks and threats made by Salafis against Coptic Christians since the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime earlier this year. Since the government collapse, members of the movement have ratcheted up their attacks and their rhetoric against the Copts.”
In Iraq, leaders of the 2,000-year-old Christian community believed that the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in 2003 would usher in a new era of full religious freedom. Instead, Iraq experienced an unparalleled wave of murder and violence. The 1987 census registered 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today the number has dwindled to fewer than 700,000. As many as 600,000 - perhaps even more - have joined the Christian exodus from the country. An orthodox bishop said that if emigration continues at the present rate, Iraq could be devoid of Christians in 10 years.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports from Syria that hard-line Islamists are leading the protestors of Bashar Assad’s regime, and Christians are being pressured either to join the protests or leave the country. Aidan Clay, ICC’s Middle East regional manager, lamented, “Throughout the Middle East, Christians have been fleeing their homeland in unprecedented numbers. Now, in a country where Christians have historically taken refuge from nearby purges in places like Turkey a century ago and Iraq in recent years, Islamists are threatening their existence.”
One observer summed up the situation as follows:
“Christians lived in what is now called the Arab world before Islam took root in the seventh century. They have survived massacres and persecution over the centuries. But the demise of secular movements in the region and the growing influence of political Islam, as evidenced in the violent form by al-Qaida, is driving out the last remnants.”
Most disconcerting is Professor Weiner’s observation that “Christians have been abandoned by their religious leaders who, instead of protecting them, have chosen to curry favor with Palestinian leadership.”
Walk that thought through a large swath of the Muslim world. Anti-blasphemy laws, anti-conversion laws, the imposition of Sharia law, and restrictions that reduce Christians to dhimmitude (subservience to Islamic rule) make prospects of a Middle Eastern or global, Islamic caliphate an utterly foreboding concept and a completely unacceptable alternative to democracy and freedom.
It is a chilling thought that Christians are being “abandoned” by their own religious leaders who opt for currying favor with sworn enemies rather than standing up for faith in Christ. Unfortunately, such is the currency of the hour. In the West, hardly a religious or political leader will speak out on behalf of those suffering or fight for their legitimate rights to live peaceful and secure lives.
The deepest of enigmas in the whole of the clash of civilizations shaking the nations today is whether there will be a wake-up call of sufficient volume to shake the sleepers on our side of the planet into reality. A Scripture comes to mind that seems to echo the cry of beleaguered Christians in Muslim lands: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow?” (Lam. 1:12). Jeremiah the prophet was lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the sixth century B.C. In the current context, the question might still be asked, “Who is listening?” The writer is executive editor for The Friends of Israel.