Arab Spring Uprisings to Put Christians in Greater Jeopardy?

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has expressed concern that uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa could put Christians in jeopardy if emerging governing bodies fail to implement political transparency and commit to pluralism. 

Speaking at a debate on Christians in the Middle East at the House of Lords (upper chamber of the U.K. Parliament) last week, Williams described the position of Christians in the Middle East as "more vulnerable than it has been for centuries." The archbishop warned that the revolutions sweeping across the region could lead to increased hostility toward Christians.

"Under some of the discredited regimes of recent years, [Christians] have enjoyed a certain degree of freedom from aggression or discrimination," Williams said. He suggested that although totalitarian regimes might have been a burden to their people, they were better for Christians than the unknown post-revolutionary future, which many fear is likely to bring oppressive Islamic rule.

"The challenges to dictatorship have, just as in the Balkans, brought their own dangers and instabilities. What began as a distinctively non-sectarian set of movements has inevitably opened the door to some of those Islamic political activists who suffered repression under the old regimes," Williams said.

He added, "We wait to see exactly what agenda such groups will now want to advance as they win high levels of popular electoral support and whether this will mean new kinds of repression in which non-Muslim and, importantly, non-orthodox Muslim communities will become targets for discrimination or whether something more like the Turkish model will emerge: an openly and strongly Islamic government with, equally, a strong commitment to practical pluralism and political transparency."

The archbishop appealed for emerging governments to commit to civic equality and the rule of law.

There are other observers, such as Aidan Clay, regional manager for the Middle East at the International Christian Concern, who agree that Islam could indeed dominate the political spectrum across the post-revolution countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Overall, the Arab Spring is "giving a powerful platform to radical Islamists, whose agenda is not for the betterment of society but to institute Islamic states and impose Sharia law," Clay told The Christian Post via email Thursday. "Islamist governments rising to power will inevitably only further violate the human rights and religious freedoms of their citizens."

Clay sees a danger not only for Egypt, but also for Syria, whose citizens are said to fear that their country will become "the next Iraq."

Iraq has seen more than 60 percent of its Christians population flee since 2003. Some 500,000 Christians still remain in Iraq, which is a big drop from an estimated 800,000 to 1.4 million in 2003, according to a report by Minority Rights Group International.

In Egypt, after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, Coptic Christians, a minority group in the African nation, experienced the worst violence in years.

Currently, Islamic parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Justice party, are expected to dominate the second round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which began Wednesday, as they did in the first round of voting. Religious minorities, including Coptic Christians, are said to fear a backlash from the Muslim majority.

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