From the church bombings in Egypt to the restrictions on movement in Palestine to an exodus from Iraq, Christians of most Middle Eastern countries are at serious risk.
By James J. Zogby
This year there will no Easter celebrations for Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt. Out of concern for their security and out of respect for the 45 Christians who were victims of two horrific suicide bombing attacks on Palm Sunday, their bishop declared that Easter services would be limited in his diocese to mass, “without any festivities.”
That Holy Week began for Egyptians with news of those bombings served as a powerful reminder of the threats faced not only by Egypt’s Copts but by other Christian communities in the Arab World.
It is only in Lebanon where, both because of their numbers and the unique characteristics of that country’s political system, Christians live in relative security. But in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, or Palestine, 2000 year-old Christian communities are at risk.
The situation in Palestine is unique. There, Christians and Muslims alike, are being strangled by the harsh Israeli occupation. They’ve lost land, livelihood, and the freedom of movement. This Holy Week, for example, only with great difficulty will Christians from Bethlehem, Bir Zeit, or Ramallah be able to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to walk the Stations of the Cross or to pray at the Church of the Sepulcher. Many Palestinians can see Jerusalem from their homes, but they are separated from the city by a 28-foot wall, restrictions imposed by occupation forces, and humiliating checkpoints. As a result of these near unbearable hardships, many Palestinian Christians have emigrated to the West causing a precipitous decline in their presence in the Holy Land.
The situation faced by Christians in Iraq and Syria is quite a different story.
In Iraq, the remnants of that country’s once thriving Christian church live in fear. Americans who only recently discovered Iraq’s ancient churches, do not realize that before the Bush Administration’s disastrous 2003 invasion, there were 1.3 millions in Iraq. Despite assuming some religious trappings, Saddam Hussein’s ruthless dictatorship was secular and, therefore, provided Christians some degree of religious freedom.
One result of the U.S. invasion that overthrew Saddam’s regime and the dismantling of Iraq’s state apparatus was to unleash a civil war of armed sectarian militias, a feature of which was the “ethnic cleansing” of entire neighborhoods of Sunni and Shia Muslims...Read More