Friday, 6 May 2011

Arab spring or Christian autumn?

The dominant reaction in the West to the spread of revolution was one of enthusiasm; some commentators even spoke of an “Arab spring” in North Africa and the Middle East. It was widely believed that the resulting political changes would be for the better, leading to the establishment of real freedom for the region’s peoples – including its Christian minorities – and of Western-style democracy. An important reason for this optimism was the apparently secular character of the revolts: they appeared to have little or no religious dimension, and certainly not to be Islamic revolutions on the Iranian model.

If this were so, the uprisings would indeed be good news for the Christians of these nations. For years they have suffered discrimination in many areas of life, restrictions on their freedoms by the authorities, and outright violence from the Muslim majorities. If the twilight of the old regimes really did herald the dawn of freedom, Christians could hope at last to take their place as equal members of society and to practise and share their faith in peace and safety.

Sadly, however, the widespread positive response to recent events in misplaced, even naïve. North African and Middle Eastern concepts of freedom and democracy, shaped by centuries of Islamic domination, are simply not the same as Western ones. So, for example, when political leaders commit themselves to “support freedom,” they do not intend to include religious freedom in this, and their Muslim audiences do not understand them to do so.

Nor can religion be separated from politics in any Muslim context, where the two are inseparably connected. For most of the people involved in them, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings are not “secular” revolutions; they are profoundly religious events, waiting to be led by the strongest religious players.

The best organised and funded groups among the rebels in Tunisia and Egypt are the Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who are aiming to play a leading role in the future government of their countries. There is already significant evidence of their growing influence in the post-revolutionary fervour:

  • The return of Islamist leaders Rashid al-Ghannoushi and Yusuf al-Qaradawi to Tunisia and Egypt respectively, amidst great public enthusiasm; the latter led a million people in prayer in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

  • The appointment of an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up Egypt’s new constitution.

  • The sudden and sharp upsurge in anti-Christian violence in Egypt, involving not only Islamist militants but also the Egyptian authorities.

  • The outcome of recent events in North Africa and the Middle East is impossible to predict with confidence at this stage. But the essentially religious character of political events in Tunisia and Egypt, and the presence there of powerful Islamist groups, raises grave concerns for the future of Christian communities in those countries. If Islamism does seize control of the various revolutions, whether slowly or suddenly, it will impose a much stricter Islamic character on politics and society, threatening the very survival of Christianity across the region.

    Please pray that the Arab spring does not become a Christian autumn.

    Source: Barnabus Fund


    Joseph Pulikotil said...

    Hi JL,

    You are absolutely right. Islamic countries do not tolerate other religions. For Muslims the government and the religion are one and the same.

    Jesus said = GIVE UNTO GOD WHAT IS GOD'S AND TO CAESAR WHAT IS DUE UNTO CAESAR - clearly separating religion from Government. We did have problems when some Pope's did not understand this clearly and tired to interfere in the running of the government.

    I firmly believe that we need a person like George Bush to free the Muslim world of Islamic domination and give them a true democratic government.

    Best wishes,

    JI said...

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for your visit. You are right. There are very few secular democracies in the Middle East, one of them being Turkey. The founder of modern Turkey - Ataturk - imposed secularism on his country and entrusted the military to keep it that way. I do think it is quite difficult for democracy to work in Muslim countries because the whole concept is quite un-Islamic in many ways.

    The way Egypt and Tunisia are going after their uprisings, I'm not very optimistic. Already Islamic political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, who are far more organised and well funded than other groups, are beginning to play a bigger role in politics. So much for the "Arab spring" and the flowering of democracy and human rights in the Middle East! We are likely to see more political Islam in North Africa in the future, and that doesn't bode well for minorities like the Christians.

    Best wishes,


    Amrita said...

    I was watching the news on BBC and CNN about the violence in Cairo against Coptic Christians . Its really a serious matter

    David C Brown said...

    Interesting in the light of today's news from Egypt. But the Lord can sustain Christians through the difficulties - that is well reported too.