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Arab Spring, Christian Fall?

16/06/2013 | by Besenyő, János (Lt. Col.)  

The phenomenon of the “Arab Spring” has intrigued the analysts of the topic since its sudden upsurge in 2011, who, until now, have examined more and more aspects of this revolutionary wave that has caught us by surprise.

One of the most neglected of these aspects is the issue of the Christians living in Arab countries. When discussing the Arab world, we tend to focus instantly on the Muslim communities, while significant Christian minorities can be found in several Arab countries.

Christianity has been an important part of the Middle Eastern culture far before the appearance of the Arabic (Muslim), and then the European colonizers. The early Christian religion has defined theMiddle Eastof the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Besides the fact that the population of these territories was mainly Christian before the arrival of the Arabic conquerors, the seat of three of the five patriarchates of early Christianity could be located in the region: one in Antioch (the modern city of Antakya in Turkey), one in Alexandria (in Egypt), and one in Jerusalem (in Israel). The situation of the local communities was changed radically by the Arab conquests of the 7th century, but the position of local Christians deteriorated truly only after the Crusades. By now they have become minorities in every current Middle Eastern country, compared to the basically Muslim population.

The number of Christians does in fact dwindle: only narrowly 1 percent of the 2.2 billion Christians of the world lives today in the Middle East and inNorth Africa. In the last century a major change occurred: Christians are only 4 percent of the region’s population, compared to 20 percent a century ago, thus they can be declared the world’s smallest regional Christian minority. For comparison: 93 percent of the population of the MENA (Middle East andNorth Africa) is Muslim, and 1.6 percent is Jewish.

Of the Middle Eastern Christians, the Coptic community ofEgyptand the Syrian Christians assume the most significant role, but the numbers of these groups have shown a major drop due to local events (persecution of Christians, migration).Lebanon, while it is not affected by the affairs of the Arab Spring, must be highlighted: a continuously decreasing, but still outstanding proportion of the population is comprised of different Christian religious groups that hold significant political positions, uniquely amongst the Christian minorities of the Arab countries. Attention should also be paid to the communities living on theterritoryofIsrael,JordanandIraq.

In the first part of the paper, we will review the situation of the Christian groups in Middle Eastern countries before the Arab Spring. The second part will discuss the major changes caused by the Arab Spring amongst the Christian minorities. Finally, the possibilities implied by the emigration of Arab Christians will be outlined.

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