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“Arab Springtime”: Christians between realism and hope

croix_coranTunisia to Egypt, through Libya and Yemen, the Arab people cross swords with their leaders. Freedom and democracy are key demands. But behind the widespread popularity, where are the Christians?…standing astride a balancing game?

Following its annual meeting on February 2nd,  CERNA – Conference of Bishops of the Northern Region of Africa focuses on the upheavals in the Arab world. The Bishops of the Conference deals with the events in Tunisia and Egypt ” a demand for freedom and dignity, particularly by younger generations of the region, which translates into a will that all be recognized as citizens, and responsible citizens. “

After the departure of Presidents Ben Ali (Tunisia) and Mubarak (Egypt), the fire of revolt continues to inflame the Arab countries. In Libya, Iran, Algeria, Yemen and also in Jordan, not a day passes without street protests and demonstrations. The ingredients of this conflagration are the rejection of a power age, unemployment, lack of freedom, and corruption. Paradigms in the Maghreb or the Middle East are very different from one country to another. We cannot overlook the participation of a large number of youth and students who have broken into new e-technologies (Facebook, Twitter) to disseminate information in real time.

To this we add the common place and position of Christians – minority in every Middle East country. They must be discreet in order not to arouse hostile reactions against them. Generally, they have always supported the secular authorities, including authoritarians (Iraq, Syria ,..). The Copts in Egypt saw the military regime of Mubarak a bulwark against Muslim fundamentalism. Official oppositionof Pope Shenouda III against President Hosni Mubarak is an eloquent testimony. This very political stance was not shared by the faithful. In the momentum of the claims, Christians who defend the values of freedom and human dignity in Egypt participated in the protests. It was Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts who confessed last February 15 in Q that “Egyptian Catholics (were) present since the protests began on 25 January. They (have) participated as Egyptian citizens who seek the good of their country. “Of the three hundred who died during the revolution, thirteen were Copts.

Expectations of Christians

It is a fact, revolution in Egypt brought the Muslim and Christian communities stood together in against Hosni Mubarak to the cries of ” Egyptians foremost. ” After the revolution of the Nile, the Christians hoped that this union continue. Cardinal Naguib desired that the faithful Catholics can make a decisive contribution to the country’s public life: “We should promote a spirit of active participation in social life, particularly through the duty to vote and all other national duties . (…) We are aware that the national position implies a spirit of cooperation and friendship between all citizens, and we hope the interim government will find solutions that can bring stability and security.” These comments dovetail with those of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, who in an interview with Vatican Radio estimated that Egypt was to become a ” great nation “in Africa. But he also wanted the authorities in charge of the countries now undertake ” to protect and defend all the locals, especially Christians, against insecurity, attacks or persecution that may be committed against them.” For if these changes can signify ” a hope for the people and the nation,” he mentioned in particular the plight of the Christian Churches of Egypt, ” for the Coptic Church, as Catholic Orthodox, this represents a turning point of great importance as it allows the Coptic Orthodox to express themselves as Christians and our Coptic Catholics as Catholics, in the hope that this leads to peace, to live together, searching for the common good all Egyptians, in order to build a society worthy of man, fairer and gives everyone the opportunity to participate in public life,” he said.

Christians have thus expressed their willingness to access these universal rights. However, their role is also to be lucid about the future in order not to be surprised by the evolution of the situation and avoid disappointment. For example, in Tunisia, the Christians after the great moments of jubilation remain in limbo in a changing government. We know that in Tunisia, Islam is the state religion and that the transition to a democracy where everyone can have a voice is not insured (Zenit January 31). Right now, the list drawn up by Open Doors, among the 50 countries where Christians are persecuted the most, Tunisia is at 37th rank.

During Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Khomenei had asked Egypt to follow in the footsteps of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Christians have a duty to be vigilant, the virtue of prudence remains in the midst of it all.

Christophe Lafontaine