Christian minorities fear Arab Spring may threaten their existence

The rapid transformation in the Arab region – the result of popular rejection of authoritarian regimes – has raised fears among Christian minorities, who fear falling under the rule of extreme Islamists.

While the fears have prompted some to seek help of organizations that claim to defend the rights of minorities in the Arab world, experts say that the minorities should protect themselves by embracing democratic change.

“Democratic stability takes time,” said Abdallah Abu Habib, director of the Issam Fares Institute, adding that Christian minorities fear for their existence in the face of Islamists. “Look at what happened in Iraq,” he said.

The Christian population of Iraq was estimated between 800,000 and 1.2 million before the US invasion in 2003. Currently, it is estimated at about 500,000 people. Many fled the country in the wake of terrorist operations carried out against them, such as the bombing of a church in October 2010, which killed 46 people.

In Syria, Christians, who have traditionally had close ties to the regime, fear the rising power of the Islamists and the chaos that resulted from the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

“Cries for democracy have turned into civil wars pushing Christians out of their homes,” said Beshara al-Rai, patriarch of Antakya.

However, George Isaac, coordinator of the Kefaya movement, believes the Islamist trends are not as influential as some may think. “Let them win through free elections if they can,” he said. “Then they will be watched by the people.”

For his part, Professor Ziad Maged of the American University in Paris, says the Islamists may rule in the beginning. “But they wouldn’t be able to impose harsh agendas,” he said.

Maged warned certain religious, ideological and ethnic minorities, who have been living in areas that have traditionally witnessed authoritarian rule, of allying with dictators in order to protect themselves against the rise of a majority they fear.

“They must embrace the democratic process and not isolate themselves from it,” he said. “For democracy respects pluralism.”

Syrian human rights activist Michel Kilo believes Christian minorities should not seek refuge outside their Arab communities. “The Islamists themselves are calling for civil states now,” he said.

Writer Walid Shoqeir says the shortest way to overcome worries is for Christians to disseminate the culture of human rights, democracy, freedom and transition of power among the societies which they live.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

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