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Canon warns of Arab Autumn

26 October 2012

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 week.

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 evil."

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 political leadership".

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."

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