ANECDOTES that recall the peaceful
co-existence of Muslims and Christians in the Middle East do not
reflect reality and risk showing "naïvety". This was the message of
Dr George Sabra, president of the Near East School of Theology, at
a conference held by the Awareness Foundation in London this
After listening to stories about Syria
before the current crisis, Dr Sabra said: "Remove the dictatorial
lid and you will find there are lots of problems. . . When it is
removed, you will find whether it really is a model of
co-existence. . . Let these people vote freely, and hardly any
Christians will be voted into Parliament."
Dr Sabra suggested that the future of
Christians in the Middle East was "inextricably linked with the
future of Islam". The direction of Islam in the region was "not
very encouraging for non-Muslims". The threat to Christians was
"very real and urgent".
The situation in Syria was, he said, a
"dilemma". Christians had been doing "rather well under the
previous regime", and anything that was less tolerant "will have
very, very negative repercussions for Christians". People were
being killed by the regime, however. "It is really a choice between
two evils, and I am not sure it is clear now which is the bigger
Throughout the conference, held to
explore the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East,
speakers expressed disappointment in the Arab Spring. Canon Fa'eq
Haddad, of St John the Baptist's, Husun, Jordan, and director of
the Awareness Foundation in Jordan, referred to it as "the Arab
Autumn, when everything is falling down . . . [and] in the name of
democracy you are losing all values of life".
Fuad Nahdi, founding publisher of
Q-News and director of the Radical Middle Way, warned that
it was "very dangerous" for Christians to develop a "victim
mentality" instead of entering into partnership with others against
a shared adversity. "Mainstream" Muslims "struggle as much as you
do against radicalism and extremism".
Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox
Church of Alexandria also expressed concern about the aftermath of
the Arab Spring. The protesters in Tahir Square "by no means
represented a country that lives with 60-per-cent poverty and
illiteracy, a country broken not by religious strife but by being
completely uncared for by the regime for decades". It had been a
"headless revolution", leaving a power gap in a country "devoid of
The Muslim Brotherhood "jumped into
the gap when nobody else did", taking the country from a "political
dictatorship to a religious dictatorship" in which Egyptians were
"no better off". Christians had suffered more attacks and deaths in
the past 18 months than in the past ten years.
There was "a definite Islamist mindset
going through Egypt at the moment, and that has to be stopped
somehow; but that is not going to be stopped by Christians." Egypt
needed "positive, pragmatic, proactive leadership", a focus on "law
for all", not the reintroduction of sharia, and "true democracy"
with human rights and equality for all. "We should not feel
privileged to be able to build a church, to be able to pray."