21st February, 2012
The 'Arab Spring' opened the door for long-repressed Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi forces to rise up and seize power locally and challenge the balance of power regionally. Faced with escalating persecution and decreasing security, Christians are increasingly opting for flight. The alternative is to exist as dhimmis: subjugated second-class citizens forced to live with crippling inequality and profound insecurity under Islamic domination.
In Egypt, Iraq and Syria - homes to the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities - the security situation is critical. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring volatile Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities.
"In Egypt, Iraq and Syria - homes to the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities - the security situation is critical. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring volatile Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities."
Egypt, which once gave refuge to the Christ-child, is today a tinderbox where anti-Christian hostility is rising to incendiary levels. Not only do those who violently persecute and terrorise Christians do so with absolute impunity, but Islamic ad hoc 'courts' and 'reconciliation sessions' then compound that persecution. The victims are denied compensation, expelled from their homes and dispossessed, or they are charged with offending Islam or threatening social cohesion.
In Iraq, where the Assyrian Church of the East -- the world's first Christian denomination -- was established, Christians are today the victims of violent Islamic jihad and ethnic cleansing. Over recent years the Christian population of Iraq has halved. In Syria, where followers of Jesus were first called 'Christians', radical Sunni Arab fundamentalists are fighting for control of Syria and the regional balance of power. Not only is the Syrian Church imperilled, but so too are the Assyrian-Chaldean Christ ian refugees who fled the genocide in Iraq for refuge in Syria.
Persecution is escalating in Iran. On 8th February, plain-clothed security officers raided a house church gathered for prayer and worship in the southern city of Shiraz, arresting all ten believers present. One of those arrested, the convert Mojtaba Hosseini, had been arrested previously in May 2008 when aged only 21. Iranian sources think the authorities have had Mojtaba under surveillance for some time. The whereabouts of these believers are unknown. Several other believers incarcerated over Christmas remain in prison. Regarded as traitors, spies and sources of 'fitna' (anything that could threaten the faith of a Muslim), all Iran's Christian prisoners are subjected to harsh conditions and cruel treatment.
Western powers pursuing economic and geo-strategic gain seem to regard the Christians of the Middle East as inconvenient peoples who may be sacrificed for greater ends such as oil and power. Needless to say, God does not see His imperilled children that way. Indeed, He suffers with them: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me...Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (From Matthew 25:40,45 ESV) The church must stand up for the Middle East's imperilled Christians.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This is an extract from a prayer bulletin initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).