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Report: A Christian Exodus from the Arab World

January 12, 2007

From Spiegel Online:

Christians have lived in the Arab world for the past 2,000 years. They were there before the Muslims. Their current predicament is not the first crisis they have faced and, compared to the massacres of the past, it is certainly not the most severe in Middle Eastern Christianity. But in some countries, it could be the last one. Even the pope, in his Christmas address, mentioned the “small flock” of the faithful in the Middle East, who he said are forced to live with “little light and too much shadow,” and demanded that they be given more rights.

(…)

In the ninth century the Maronites, whose name is derived from St. Maron, a Syrian monk, fled into the mountains of Lebanon to escape Muslim persecution, and in the 12th century they joined the Roman Catholic Church.

“We even survived the Crusades,” says the patriarch. “Now the war is driving people away. They are losing hope. But we have also seen the opposite taking place. We have had Christian heads of state in Lebanon since the 1940s — the first time this has happened in four centuries — and our Muslim fellow citizens have had no objections.”

Sfeir is referring to Lebanon’s fragile proportional system of government, under which the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shiite. But the system, put in place in 1943, has long since been rendered obsolete by demographics. Sfeir senses that the political balance of power has also changed — and does not favor Christians.

(…)

Units of the 750-member Hamdaniyah Brigade — a Christian militia that defends its churches with the same tactics Sunni and Shiite militias use in central Iraq to defend their mosques — are already patrolling the streets of Bartalla, a fast-growing Christian settlement 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mosul, the violence-ridden provincial capital. Bearded men wielding Kalashnikovs stand guard at a barrier in front of the town’s Syrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary. Photography is strictly forbidden.

“What else can we do?” asks Ghanem Gorges, the 43-year-old mayor of Karamlis, a Chaldean village a few kilometers south of Bartalla. Armed men, presumably mujahedeen from nearby Mosul, forced their way into the village four times this fall. Two weeks ago they kidnapped and murdered Shakib Paulus, a 25-year-old crane operator, whose body was found on the street in Arbil a few days later.

See also:
DhimmiWatch: A message from a Christian in Nazareth

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Theme: Plight of Christians in the Holy Land

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