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Changes Again In the Middle East

July 10, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Middle East

Middle Eastern Christians are experiencing one of the most significant periods in their history, according to religious and political leaders meeting in London last week. Recent regime changes in Egypt and Iran, as well as sectarian violence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, have presented the opportunity for the Christian minority to speak out and for international bodies to advocate on their behalf.

Rev. Andrew White, pastor of an Anglican church in Baghdad, related the “terrible suffering” of Iraq’s Christian community. He said that in the 10 years since Saddam Hussein was ousted, 1026 members of his congregation had been killed-58 within one day. White shared that in the last decade, Iraq’s Christian population has dramatically dropped from 1.5 million to around 200,000.

As Egypt adapts to its second regime change in two years, Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Church in the UK, said Egyptians are beginning to embrace their identity as Egyptians, not just as members of distinct religious communities.

“It was unheard of before two years ago that Egyptian flags would be flying on the streets, because people felt that they were not really part of a single nation state, so they reverted to their own religion, whether Christian or Muslim,” he said. The Bishop related that one Muslim Brotherhood leader said he felt closer to an Indonesian Muslim than a Coptic Christian because he identified with the nation of Islam, the Ummah, rather than with Egypt.

By emphasizing Islam, the Bishop added that former President Mohamed Morsi’s religious-led government highlighted the distinctions between the different faith communities, rather than bringing people together. “We looked at what happened two years ago as the turning point, but… there was a mentality of divide and conquer, which means that you keep communities apart; you make them think that they can’t trust each other.” He added, “You don’t bring people together at all, because if you bring people together, you get what’s happening on the streets of Cairo today, which was impossible back then. It’s a great opportunity to be able to break down some of the barriers and bring people together for a common cause.”

Referencing the wake of the overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, as well as the situation for Christians in Iran, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said he has yet to be persuaded that a truly Islamic state could grant its citizens religious freedom, “Very prominent church leaders have said in my presence that a truly Islamic state will guarantee the freedoms of non-Muslims. Well I beg to differ! I don’t think there is a single historical instance of this happening anywhere.”

The Bishop admonished countries in the Middle East to learn from the case of Egypt and look beyond the ideal of democracy.  “Democracy is not enough,” he said. “It can simply mean the feeling of the majority. In the Egyptian context, the question is not achieving power through the ballot box, but whether there is a willingness to give up power through the ballot box. That’s the other test of democracy.”

Religious freedom must be considered more than just a Western ideal, according to Canada’s Andrew Bennett, the country’s first ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom. “We must speak up and defend freedom of religion for all, especially for Middle Eastern Christians, who are experiencing such grave persecution,” he said. “This core principle is not culturally specific; it is not the sole preserve of Western democracies. It is a universal principle that speaks to human dignity.”

Ziya Meral, a Turkish researcher and writer living in London, stated that the concept of religious freedom is “flawed” and in need of redefining. Though Meral is encouraged that freedom of religion has risen exponentially in prominence in the media over the past five years, he added a sober caveat that the word “freedom” is often viewed as freedom from social responsibility. Instead, Meral said, “we need a ‘new language’ and should redefine religious freedom [as a way] to enjoy our different faiths together.”

Father, out of the chaos that has engulfed Egypt, we pray You would bring about peace. And, for those who would grab for power, we pray that they will be willing to relinquish it so that all might live and worship according to their convictions. Whether in peace or in suffering, may Christians today be filled with peace and confidence in You that the light of Christ might shine forth from their lives. May Your people be known for their compassion on all who suffer and for their forgiveness toward those who would bring them harm. May Your Spirit flow over this nation and bring about an extraordinary revival of souls brought into Your Kingdom. In the name of Jesus our Savior and King, Amen.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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