While Christian minorities are currently facing severe challenges in several countries of the Middle East, as evidenced by the situation in Syria, there is no set pattern to these conflicts, according to the April issue of Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (April), which is devoted to country-by-country analyses.
In Egypt (84 million inhabitants), Christians make close to 10 percent of the population, with 7 to 9 million Coptic Orthodox, more than 600,000 Protestants, and 200,000 to 300,000 Coptic Catholics. The Coptic Orthodox Church has been led since 2012 by Patriarch Tawadros II, who took the helm of the Church at a time violence against Christians was increasing, and while the Morsi-led government was hardly taking measures to counter such attacks.
Christians welcomed the overthrow of President Morsi by the military, but instances of violence continue to be reported, with inefficient or very late police reaction. Still, Christians nourish hopes that there will be improvements under the soon-to-be-elected president. The new Constitution adopted in January 2014 keeps Islam as the religion of the State and guarantees no quota for Christians in Parliament, but the religious rights of Jews and Christians are clearly recognized (though not those of the 2,000 Bahais in the country).
At this point, all options (both positive and negative) for the future remain open, writes Michaela Köger, an expert on developments in Egyptian Christianity. Despite economic hardships, most Egyptian Christians would like to stay in their country. In Syria, Thomas Prieto Peral describes the situation of Christians as “more than complicated.” Before the uprising of 2011 and the subsequent civil war, Christians made up 10 percent of the population, but they were spread across the country, with no homogeneous majority Christian areas.
Faced with the current threat of de facto divisions in the country across religious lines, with few places for Christians, there are renewed visions of a Christian homeland, as cultivated in Christian circles since the 19th century. But such dreams appear to offer little promises in terms of a lasting or realistic solution and seems unlikely that Christians could call one area their own and rule it. Moreover, there are strong internal divisions and political rivalries among Christians, exacerbated in a growing Christian diaspora with competing views and identities.
Christians are already the main losers of the war, adds Wolfgang Schwaigert. Christians face the violence of the war like all Syrian citizens, but they are also targeted with hostility from radical Islamists, including the desecration of their churches, and more than one-quarter of the Christian population has already fled the country. Entire areas are now “Christian-free” while all churches in such areas have been razed to the ground. The situation in Lebanon is different, but cannot be separated from developments in neighboring countries, writes Fadi Daou (Adyan Foundation).
Considering conflicts surrounding them, the main challenge is to reinforce unity among the 13 different Churches recognized in the Lebanese Constitution. While the Middle East Council of Churches is headquartered in Beirut, there is no permanent ecumenical structure associating all Churches in Lebanon itself. Finally, only a small Christian population is left today in Turkey, despite its historical significance for Christianity and the presence of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul—a total of some 150,000 Christians in the entire country. New Christian players are coming in the form of small, dynamic Evangelical groups, but their missionary work risks creating new divisions and controversy for Christians, writes Claudio Monge.
(Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West, P.O. Box 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland – www.g2w.eu.)