I tried to tell you. “Christians fear losing freedoms in Arab Spring,” by Oren Dorell and Sarah Lynch for USA Today via the Tucson Citizen, January 30:
From her home in a labyrinth of stonewalled alleyways, Samia Ramsis holds a key chain bearing the face of the Virgin Mary as she sits in her yellow pajamas on the morning of Orthodox Christmas.
Sunlight pours in through a window. Outside, visitors come to look upon the spot where Egypt’s Christians “” most known as Copts “” believe the Holy Family found refuge after fleeing Bethlehem and assassins sent by King Herod to kill the baby Jesus.
Once crowded with Christians, Cairo’s Coptic quarter where Samia lives with her husband, Mounir, and two children is home to fewer than 50 Christian families.
“We know many Christians have left,” says Mounir Ramsis, speaking not only about this quarter but about all of Egypt. “But we love this country and will stay until death.”
The Arab Spring uprisings that have toppled secular dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa have unleashed long-suppressed freedoms that have allowed Islamic parties to gain a share of political power they have been denied for decades. Their rise is creating near-panic among ancient Christian communities that dot the Muslim world and predate Islam by centuries.
“¢In Tunisia, where the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted last year after 32 years in power, the dominant political party, Ennahda, has worried some of Tunis” 22,000 Catholics by vowing to tilt the country”s yet-to-be-written constitution toward sharia, or the detailed and often harsh system of Muslim theocratic laws.
“¢In Libya, Christians are uneasy as the powerful head of the Tripoli Military Council, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, who once led an Islamic militia with links to al-Qaeda, has said he plans to run for office in elections scheduled for April.
“¢In Afghanistan, no new building permits have been issued for churches, and the last church open to the public was demolished over the summer. In Iraq, the Christian community has decreased by two-thirds since 2003 amid bombings of churches and assassinations of priests.
“¢And Christians in Syria, where Muslims have risen up against President Bashar Assad, have been subjected to murder, rape and kidnappings in Damascus and rebellious towns, according to Christian rights groups, including Open Doors, which helps Christians facing persecution.
Many had hoped for better in an Arab movement that proponents said was about replacing tyrannies with democracies.
“The outlook is grim,” says John Eibner, CEO of the California-based human rights group Christian Solidarity International.
“If the current trajectory continues, it’s reasonable to think that within a generation these (Christian) communities will not look like functioning communities,” Eibner says. “They”ll look more like the once-flourishing Jewish communities” across the Arab world that are all but gone.
Nowhere is the irony more profound than in Egypt, where an estimated 8 million Christians live with more than 70 million Muslims.
Christians demonstrated alongside Muslims early last year to oust Hosni Mubarak. Before Mubarak’s overthrow, Christians had suffered from years of church burnings and murders at the hands of radical Muslims who want an Islamic state free of religious minorities. And after the ouster, the military regime that has been running the country has refused to make any arrests in attacks on Christians.
Mina Bouls, 25, a Copt who fled to Philadelphia, recalls cowering with his mother in 1997 as a mob stoned the family home and chanted anti-Christian slogans. But the difference then was that Mubarak ordered the military to protect Christian communities and jail extremists, Bouls says.
In October, Copts organized a protest in downtown Cairo over the authorities” failure to investigate attacks, including the bombing of a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day 2011 that killed 20 people. The military attacked the demonstrators and 17 Christians were run down and killed by military vehicles, according to Human Rights Watch.
Bouls wants to bring his family to the United States because he says he is petrified by the new society forming in Egypt. The first free elections in decades held in the past two months handed power not to moderates but to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafi candidates, who combined took nearly 70% of seats.
“If people try to rule the country with the Koran, with sharia law, that means they look to us as second-class people,” Bouls says….
The exodus came amid 60 church bombings and the deaths of 900 Christians, says William Warda, chairman of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization in Baghdad.
“We consider that genocide,” he says.
Malik says Western nations must stand up for the rights of Christians, who he says may be cleansed from lands where democratic elections are used to oppress minorities rather than empower them.
Malik says it must be done “in a way that is not misperceived on the other end.” However, “the West should not be cowed.”
Should not be, indeed. But probably it will be.