In the wake of civil wars, regime changes and emboldened Islamic extremism, Christians are facing a new environment in the Middle East. Christianity has a rich history in the Middle East. Its roots dig deep into the soil. However, those roots are now drying up.
Syria has been home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, which dates back 2 millennia. There are even Christians in some villages of Syria that speak Aramaic, which was the language Jesus was said to have spoken. The apostle Paul is said to have been converted to Christianity while on the road to Damascus. At one point Christians composed 30% of Syria’s population. Today they compose only 10% of Syria’s 22 million. Christians in Syria have always been among the minority. However, they were long protected under Hafez al-Assad, who was president between 1971 and 2000, and by his son Bashar. Since the Syrian civil war began 2 years ago hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to exodus. It is estimated that more than 1,000 Christians have been slaughtered, entire Christian villages have been wiped out and more than 40 churches have been destroyed or damaged. Many fear that Christians will find no refuge in Syria if the rebels are successful in overthrowing Assad, who has long protected them.
Egypt is the home of many stories within the Christian bible. Coptic Christians compose approximately 10% of Egypt’s 90 million. They have come under vicious attack at the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the ousting of President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, extremists within the Brotherhood set fire to hundreds of Christian churches, businesses, schools and homes. Many Christians were beaten to death in the middle of the street. A mob even set fire to and destroyed a Seventh-day Adventist church in Assiut, which is a town 200 miles from Cairo.
Under former president Mubarak, Egypt’s Christians were protected. The former dictator would even pass laws, which favored them and their religion. Mubarak did at times face tensions with the Copts, but balance was most always achieved. Mubarak would even perform favors for the pope. In fear of their lives, Christians have been forced to exodus from Egypt, thus ending their 2,000 year presence in the country.
Iraq is also home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. In fact, Christians had placed their roots in the area before Islam even became a religion. Former president Saddam Hussein never favored the Christians; however, he certainly never targeted them. Once Hussein was removed from power the target was drawn on Iraq’s Christians. Hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to exodus to Syria. Now those same Christians in Syria are forced to exodus again. Before Hussein’s demise there were more than 800,000 Christians in Iraq. It is now estimated that there are less than 400,000. In 2010, 58 Christians were killed and 120 taken hostage during a siege on a Catholic church in Baghdad.
This pattern is repeated again and again in Libya, Tunisia and other countries where the “Arab Spring” has taken hold. It is interesting to note that pro-democracy is not always a good thing. In America our Founding Fathers set forth a representative democracy, which is also referred to as a Republic. In a Republic minority rights are protected against the majority. Direct democracy, as seen in the Middle East, destroys the rights and protections of the minority class. The old regimes of the Middle East took a play from the book of Darius The Great, the king of the Persian Empire at its peak. Darius’ success was rooted in religious freedom and tolerance of minorities. The relative stability the Middle East has known for years had roots in this tolerance. As those roots dry and burn, stability is no where in sight. As the Middle East continues its renaissance, which has roots in Islamic extremism those of minority faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Baha’i see little hope of peace.