Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Christianity in the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams
October 31, 2011

A general view of the Church of Holy Sepulchre during the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem's Old City April 23, 2011. (Courtesy REUTERS/Baz Ratner).

A general view of the Church of Holy Sepulchre during the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem's Old City April 23, 2011. (Courtesy REUTERS/Baz Ratner).

The decline of Christianity in the Middle East is a painful but not a new subject. The Christian community in Lebanon must now live under the shadow of Hezbollah. The Iraqi Christian community has been reduced by many estimates from one million to half that number. And now, Egypt’s Copts are facing violence that has led many thousands to flee and will surely bring many more to take the same step.

Last week the European Parliament adopted a resolution accusing both the Egyptian and Syrian governments of persecuting Christians. On Egypt the resolution says

Since March 2011, tens of thousands of Coptic Christians have reportedly left Egypt. On 9 October, at least 25 were killed and more than 300 wounded in Cairo during a peaceful march organised by Copts. Parliament strongly condemns the killing of protestors in Egypt, and stresses the importance of an independent and transparent investigation. Authorities should ensure that Copts do not fall victim to violent attacks and can live in peace and freely express their beliefs throughout the country, the resolution says. MEPs call for protection of churches, to put an end to their destruction and to continuous aggression by Islamic extremists.

On Syria, the European Parliament adds

MEPs are also deeply concerned about the situation of Christians in Syria. The resolution notes that thousands of Iraqi Christians went to Syria to escape targeted violence in Iraq. Nevertheless, the Christian population in Syria may have dropped from 10% to 8% of the total. Parliament condemns actions inciting inter-confessional conflict, urges Syrian authorities to provide reliable and efficient protection for the Christian communities, and expresses support for Christians in the country.

The difficulty Christians face in countries throughout the Middle East does have one exception: Israel. Only in the Jewish State are Christian communities thriving.

An AP story last week reported that

The past two decades, however, have seen one of the most significant influxes of Christians into the Holy Land since the Crusades, and it has created a wholly new Christian landscape shaped by the realities of Israel. The newcomers include guest workers from dozens of different countries who provide the economy with cheap labor, and asylum-seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere in Africa who sneak across the border from Egypt. And for the first time, there is a significant population of non-Arab Christian Israeli citizens, mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who, unlike Arabs, are fully assimilated into the Jewish Israeli mainstream….On a recent Sunday, the chapel at the Ratisbonne monastery in downtown Jerusalem rang with the sound of hymns in Tagalog, one of the languages of the Philippines.

There are many thousands of newly arrived Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and other groups and the new situation produces novelties like a Catholic catechism and Russian Orthodox services in Hebrew. “The Church never dreamed of such an arrival,” says one Orthodox priest.

So while Christians are thriving in Israel they are under intense pressure in many neighboring Muslim countries. Europeans, and American enemies of Israel like the famous professors Walt and Mearsheimer, most often attribute American support for Israel to the “Jewish lobby.” But American Christians know more about the Middle East than these supposedly sophisticated critics, and are aware of the fate of their coreligionists. They see Christianity free to grow in Israel, and faced with violence and suppression nearby. They see Christians free to worship in Israel but fleeing all too many Arab lands. There’s no need for complicated political science analyses here, much less bigotry: those seeking to understand why American Christians overwhelmingly support Israel should study the treatment and the fate of Christianity in the Middle East.


Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    Its very sad to see to the exodus of the arab christians from the Mideast , and its very confusing how they always paid the price for the changing of alliances .
    all the powers in the Mideast were responsible for the christians`s exodus , look what happened to them in Iraq where the american invasion failed to protect them (though i supported the removal of Saddam).
    In Syria under the so called protection of 40 years of the Assad`s more than half of the Syrian christians left Syria between 70s and now.
    In lebanon where it was created as a strong hold for the christians -thanks to Assad`s 30 years occupation- the reall power is in the hands of Hizballa Not the Christians as it always use to be.

  • Posted by neville craig

    It would be more useful and professional if some numbers of Christians are put to this.

    And some mention of US ‘Christian Zionists’ who seem an ill-informed, superstitious, suggestible bunch of naive ‘believers’.

    We can but hope that when their ‘Last Days’ do finally arrive they will not slaughter too many Israeli Jews to get to ‘heaven’.

  • Posted by Sanda Figley

    Fantastic story, believed we could mix several unconnected data, nonetheless really worth taking a look, whoa performed one learn about Middle of the Eastern offers more problerms as well.

  • Posted by johnmarshall5446

    Virtually everything written above is a lie. The loss of Christians from Iraq through murder and forced exile was CAUSED by the US invasion of Iraq.

    “In Iraq the very survival of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities now hangs in the balance.

    Continuing attacks against the faithful have prompted successive waves of emigration. UN reports say as many as 650,000 Iraqi Christian refugees are living abroad. According to Iraq’s bishops, the Christian population plummetted from nearly 900,000 to perhaps fewer than 200,000 in the last ten years, with some sources suggesting even fewer Christians left in Iraq.”


    “Since 2003 Iraq’s Christians, who have lived in Iraq for nearly 2,000 years, have diminished from an estimated 900,000 to about half that number today.”


    Also Christians are NOT thriving in Israel but in decline as all reports agree:



    In Egypt, Mr. Abrams supported the overthrow of Mubarak which CAUSED the violence against Coptic Christians, previously unheard of.

    Finally, Mr Abrams attempt to link danger to Christians in Syria to Assad, when in fact Assad has protected the Christian community there throughout his reign.

  • Posted by Poyani

    It is very ironic that Elliot Abrams has chosen the Church of Holy Sepulchre as the picture for this article.

    The church was built by a Muslim Caliph (Ali az-Zahir). It was expanded by another Muslim Emperor (Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire). To make matters worse It is not located in Israel at all (it is in occupied Palestinian territories).

    Hence the relations between the church and Israel is one of curfews, checkpoints, and the refusal of the Israeli authorities to allow Christians to make pilgrimage to the site during special occasions (such as Christmas and Easter)

    In fact, the only other relation the church has with Israel is that recently the Israeli government decided to tax the church. The church was of course angry because it is not in Israel, its members are not Israeli citizens and it is a religious sites (which are usually except from taxation). So it refused to pay its taxes. Israel as a result threatened to shut off the water supply of the church until it paid its new Israeli tax.

    So much for the myth of the thriving Christian community in Israel!

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    the christians in Isreal should spend one day in any arab country ( and i`m sure they would`nt last till noon )and see how good they have it in Isreal.

  • Posted by Christian-Holyland

    Israel – the holy land is still the crown of the middle east Christian center. while copts are facing violence in Egypt and in other Arab countries, Israel is the only place in the middle east offering truly freedom of religion.
    Sure from time to time there are conflicts but the difference between Israel and the other Muslim countries is huge, visit the holy places and sites in the Christian Holy Land shows how much Israel preserve and put great efforts in making sure that the holy places will be safe, clean, open, and authentic! The land of the Bible, land of Jesus still offers the best spiritual experience.

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