By Melissa Nordell
Experts are warning of possible targeting of Christians in many Middle East countries. The danger is especially apparent in Syria after the so-called “Arab Spring.” In Syria, the conflict still continues between government forces and rebels, and the government itself is quite unstable, according to a report by CNN.
“In the past, they [Syrian Christians] have had (a) great outpouring of piety in the public squares on Easter,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “This time, I suspect it is going to be vastly different. They are fearful,” she told CNN.
In Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, where intensity of infighting may have passed, Easter celebrations now must deal with new power structures, new laws and new radical Islamic tendencies in each country. One U.S. Christian, originally from Egypt who has most of his family still in his native country, reported that there is much fear and danger at every turn for all Christians there. They are fearful for their lives to assemble, to worship and to let others know their faith, CNN reported.
While the threat is increasingly severe in these Middle Eastern countries, the threat is heightened even more when there are mass groups, celebrations, and consecrations. And add to that the fact that this is a major Christian holiday seen around the world, along with the instability… it all makes for a highly volatile situation.
Certainly, there has been a dramatic change compared to more recent years when Christian celebrations and worship were once tolerated, Muslims and Christians could associate peaceably, and children of both faiths played together. But now things are different in the Middle East.
The increasing danger has been especially seen in recent threats to Coptic Christians in Egypt. “Though Coptic Christians in Egypt do not celebrate Easter until April 15, they find themselves in a particular state of uncertainty….Copts make up 9% of Egypt population, according to the U.S. State Department, but have been the target of a number of attacks in the past few months. In January, at least 21 people died at a church bombing in Alexandria and in October 2011, 25 people died and more than 272 people were injured during protests after a Coptic Church was burned in southern Egypt,” CNN reported.
“There is this idea that Christians are somehow not real Egyptians. There is this idea that these people are not really good citizens of the country,” Albert W. Hickman, a research associate at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity told CNN. “I’d say the mood is watchful. People are looking to see what is going to happen next.” Hickman said that it would not surprise him if anti-Christian groups in Egypt planned to target worshipers on Easter. “I would imagine that Christians are not wanting to draw a huge amount of attention to a huge gathering in a park or square,” he said.
These concerns are highlighted in a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which states: “In the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. Violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians increased significantly during the reporting period. The transitional government has failed to protect religious minorities from violent attacks at a time when minority communities have been increasingly vulnerable.” According to the report, nearly 100 Coptic Christians were killed in 2011 because of more than 40 sectarian incidents. This number surpassed the death toll of the previous 10 years combined.
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a powerful ministry that operates to promote awareness and intercession for persecuted Christians around the world, has highlighted Easter persecution as well. “Holy days can be a time when Christians are targeted,” VOM states. “Will you pray God’s protection for Christians worshiping in restricted nations this Easter?”
“Let us be prayerful to intercede right now for all Christians around the world who may be targeted or abused for worshiping and expressing their faith this Easter season. Let us pray that they may worship in freedom, without fear of persecution, imprisonment or death. And of course, let us intercede for those that do not understand our beliefs; that they come to a saving knowledge of the one true Savior, Jesus Christ.”