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Arab Spring or Christian Winter?

BY RELEVANT CULTURE / ISSUE 55 / POLITICS January 10, 2012

Since early 2011, citizens have been protesting various regimes across North Africa and the Middle East. Governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been toppled, and at press time, the regime in Syria is barely clinging to control. It is all part of what has become known as the “Arab Spring.”

During the protests (particularly in Egypt), Arab Christians frequently have been vocal supporters of the efforts to oust oppressive rulers and dictators. Pictures of Egyptian Christians standing watch as a group of Muslims prayed went viral, as did photos of Muslims later returning the favor. But that early sense of hope may be disappearing in the countries affected by the protests.

In October, Christians in Egypt protested attacks against the Christian community. The current ruling Egyptian leaders responded by breaking up the protests, and 21 Christians died in the resulting violence. Many observers are now wondering how the new leadership in Egypt will treat its Christians, many of whom are Copts, an ancient denomination based in Alexandria.

In Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad so far continues to resist calls for an end to his 11-year reign, Christians have been notably absent from the most visible protests. Surprisingly, many Syrian Christians are supporters of al-Assad’s government. His regime has mostly protected Christians against Islamic extremists via an intentionally secular style of government, so some believers are worried any regime change could mean danger for them. The Washington Post also notes many of the Christians in Syria are well off and hold a disproportionately high number of high government offices.

It remains to be seen what will happen in Syria or with the Christians in Egypt, but it’s clear the Arab Spring is more complicated than some believed when the protests began. It’s also apparent many Arab Christians, right or wrong, feel trapped between a proverbial rock and a hard place.

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