Published: 11:00 GMT Standard Time - Wednesday 07 December 2011
Please pray for House of Lords debate on Christians in Middle East
Country/Region: United Kingdom, Europe
Urgent prayer request from Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund:
On Friday (9 December), the UK House of Lords is holding an important and timely debate, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, about the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
Barnabas Fund has been asked to produce a briefing paper (see below) for this debate, and I am now urgently seeking your prayers that the Lords will recognise the grave danger that Christian minorities are facing as a result of the “Arab Spring”. Please pray also that the Lords will exert their influence on our government so that it will press for the protection of Christians and other vulnerable groups in the region.
I have just returned from a visit to Syria, where the Christians are extremely concerned about what is happening in their country and what the future holds for them there. Also the Syrian Christians, and Iraqi Christian refugees in the country, are in considerable need, as the country’s economy is crippled by the ongoing unrest.
Please pray for Christians in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, that the Lord will grant them His peace at this time of uncertainty and meet all their practical needs. Barnabas Fund has been helping Syrian Christians and Iraqi Christian refugees in the country for many years. If you would like to help them, please send a donation to the Syria General Fund.
Religious minorities have been placed under growing pressure in the wake of the momentous changes brought about in the Arab world as a result of the so-called “Arab Spring”. These momentous changes brought with them hopes for democracy, respect for human rights and prosperity for all citizens of the Middle East.
Sadly, the current developments we are witnessing turn these hopes into fears. From Tunisia to Egypt, Islamist parties have gained ascendency. This is a potential disaster for religious minorities, as Islamist parties rely on a conservative interpretation of Sharia as the principal source of law and ultimately want to make it the law of the land, thus greatly restricting reforms that promote human rights and placing even greater restrictions on non-Muslims than previously existed.
The crisis that has engulfed Syria threatens the two million Christians living there. Since the armed conflict in Iraq, Syria has provided refuge for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees, amongst others who fled to Syria after they were targeted by Islamist extremists in Iraq. While the Assad regime has undoubtedly been authoritarian and brutal in its treatment of its citizens, Syria has traditionally protected its religious minorities more than any other country in the Middle East. Should Syria become consumed by a civil war, it is feared that the vulnerable Christian population will be targeted on a similar scale to what we witnessed in the aftermath of Western intervention in Iraq. Other minorities may face a similar backlash. Syria’s Christians are in a frightening position and their weakness and lack of protection could leave them as easy targets for Islamist extremists who may use the political vacuum created by internal conflict.
Mindful of the tragic levels of civilian suffering brought about in Iraq by over ten years of extensive sanctions imposed by the international community, we would invite caution against further sanctions being considered against Syria that run the risk of impacting on the civilian population. Instead there is a need for direct consultation between HM Government and representatives of all those affected by developments in Syria, particularly Christians. Consultation needs to translate into considered policies that seek to protect all civilians of Syria and particularly those who are most vulnerable should the country be destabilised by military action.
The continued threat of unilateral military action against targets in Iran could also increase the ongoing persecution of Christians there. Iran is home to over a million Christians who live under constant oppression by the authorities. There are real fears that these Christians will be treated as co-conspirators by the Iranian authorities if or when any Western or regional power acts decisively against the Iranian regime. Such action will spark arbitrary arrests, detention and even torture.
Egypt has been one of the countries at the centre of the Arab Spring. It is home to a large Christian minority that makes up about 10% or more of the total population. Numerous incidents of sectarian hostility have taken place over recent years. Christians have frequently been attacked by their Muslim neighbours and by religious extremists, and little or no protection has been given to them by the police and security forces. The legal system has been heavily Islamised and restricts religious freedom. The Arab Spring created hopes amongst many Christian citizens that all Egyptians would soon enjoy the freedoms of a truly democratic, secular state that would respect human rights and religious freedom in particular. This hope quickly faded as Islamists began to gain privileged influence in the post-uprising Egypt and there were renewed deadly attacks on Christians by Islamists and security forces. Early indications are that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi political parties (who take an even harder line) are likely to dominate any elected government. These parties want to Islamise Egypt even further. There is now little possibility of the conditions for religious minorities improving; indeed, many fear they will get worse, and huge numbers of Egyptian Christians are emigrating.
Similar trends are emerging in Libya as the National Transitional Council has determined that Sharia will be the principal source of law in the new constitution of Libya. This decision was taken without widespread consultation among the people of Libya, and has sparked widespread concerns among civil society groups in Libya that human rights and fundamental freedoms will once again be denied.