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Arab Intellectual on the Worsening Situation of Christians in the Muslim World

Middle East Media Research Institute

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Arab intellectual of Palestinian origin George Kattan discusses the discrimination against Christians in the Arab countries today, describing their deteriorating status and diminishing numbers in comparison with previous eras in the region's history. He warns that the Christian population of the region may vanish as Christians emigrate to the West rather than tolerate the backwardness and tyranny of their home countries. Further, he calls upon the Christian communities to stay put and fight for democracy and human rights in their own countries.(1)

The following are excerpts from the article:

The Spread of the Islamic Movement and Extremist Salafi Views Led to Copts' Removal From Prominent Positions in Egypt

"Christians played a key role during the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods by [facilitating] mutual enrichment between the civilizations and introducing the thought and science of the [ancient] civilizations into the Arab world.

"During the [Arab] Renaissance, many Christians played a prominent role in introducing concepts from the Enlightenment [into the Arab world], reexamining the Arabic language, highlighting the uniqueness of Arab culture, challenging Ottoman backwardness and tyranny, and calling for the establishment of a modern state based on national, rather than religious, affiliation...

"Their unique participation [in public life] reached its peak in the 'liberal period,' during the second half of the previous century, when there were prominent [Christian] philosophers, intellectuals, ministers, parliament members and party members.

"With the ascent of the semi-secular military regimes, with their pan-Arab and socialist slogans - especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria - there was a decrease in the participation of Christians in the political arena. Though these regimes did not persecute the Christians, their absolute tyranny was the main reason for the advent of extremist fundamentalist Islamism, which calls for [the establishment of] an Islamic state that would discriminate against religious minorities, marginalize them and encourage them to emigrate...

"The spreading of the Islamic movement and extremist Salafi views throughout Egyptian society led to the removal of Copts from the Parliament, municipalities, labor unions and [other] prominent positions, and limitations began to be imposed on the building and renovation of churches. Some [churches] were [even] attacked and burned down, and Christians were accused of heresy...

"It should also be noted that the curricula [in Egyptian schools] ignored the 600 years of Coptic history in Egypt. [Furthermore], the former supreme leader of the Egyptian [Muslim] Brotherhood called to ban [Christians] from the army and from the bureaucracy, to apply to them the Islamic law concerning dhimmis [Christians and Jews living under Islamic rule], and thus to reinstate the jizya [poll tax], turning [the Christians] into second-rate citizens."

"Are We Moving Towards Exclusively Muslim Societies?"

"During its last years in power, Saddam's regime in Iraq gave the Salafi movements freedom of action, and after its fall [these movements] led the terrorist activity along with the remnants of the old regime... Among their most conspicuous actions was the bombing of six churches on a single Sunday, resulting in massive Christian emigration. Since the Gulf War, at least a third of Iraq's Christian population has emigrated [to other countries]...

"In the West Bank and Gaza, armed Islamic movements regard Palestine as a Muslim waqf [religious endowment], and call to defend the places holy to the Muslims while disregarding places holy to the Christians... The few Christian women living in Gaza have to wear a veil out of fear of the extremists. A few weeks ago, the last shop selling wines in Gaza was bombed, even though it belonged to international organizations...

"The Christians of Saudi Arabia were rooted out centuries ago. The hundreds of thousands of Christians who now work in Saudi Arabia, arriving from the neighboring countries or from far-away lands, are not allowed to build churches there. [Moreover], they risk beatings, imprisonment, and deportation, [even] if they hold their ceremonies in secret, in their own homes. At the same time, the Saudi regime uses its oil profits to build grandiose mosques all over 'heretical' Europe.

"The Christians in Lebanon have diminished from 50% before the civil war to 35% today. Christians comprise 3.5 million out of the 5 million Lebanese emigrants living in the West...

"While in ancient times, discrimination, marginalization, accusations of heresy, and persecution drove many [Christians] to convert to Islam, today they are driven to emigrate, as long as the gates remain open. This may cause Christianity to decline in its original home in the East...

"Are we moving towards exclusively Muslim societies? Will this deterioration stop here, or will it lead, after the Eastern countries are emptied of Christians, to [a state] of sectarian purity in each country? Are there solutions that will allow coexistence without the majority hating [the minorities] that differ in their religion and ethnicity? Will we progress towards integrated humanist and democratic societies that accept political, religious, and ethnic pluralism, or slide back into the darkness of old concepts out of religious, nationalist and pan-Arab narcissism?..."

"The Fundamentalists Have Defined Their Adversaries: Modern Society, Women, and Non-Muslims"

"The pan-Arab solution is no longer feasible now that the pan-Arab movements have embraced Islamism, and most of them agree that the term 'Arab' is synonymous with 'Muslim.' This excludes Christians almost completely from the dominant Islamic Arabism - to the point where, in some countries, Christian teachers have been banned from teaching Arabic, since it is the language of the Koran...

"The Christians have no political plan to [establish] a local or regional entity. The renewal of their cultural and humanist role depends on the completion of the [cultural] renaissance... which will ensure [people's] freedom to build places of worship, hold religious ceremonies, engage in peaceful religious preaching, change their religion without coercion, interpret their religious texts without accusing others of religious or sectarian heresy... [and will also allow us to] end the discrimination in the constitutions - which turns the presidency into a Muslim monopoly... and the Islamic Shari'a into the basis for legislation...

"The [only] option left to the Christians is to stay put and promote [the development of] modern democratic states that guarantee human rights by [guaranteeing] full and equal citizenship to all sectors of society, and [by establishing] national unity which accepts social diversity and turns it into a factor that enriches the shared [social] fabric... In [this] interim stage, there may be liberal democratic Christian parties that will prevent religion from interfering with state affairs, and will protect freedom of worship and religious education [based on] tolerance for others...

"The fundamentalists have defined their adversaries: modern society, women, and non-Muslims. Therefore, the coalition opposing them may include secular democratic political forces, women's empowerment organizations, minorities, and global human rights organizations which promote freedoms and fight discrimination against minorities."


(1) http://www.metransparent.com/texts/george_catan_eclipse_of_christianism_ in_orient.htm, January 17, 2006.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on request.

MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with proper attribution.

Read the entire article on the Middle East Media Research Institute website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-May-06

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