Christians comprised an estimated 20% of the Middle East population until the early 20th century. Today, Christians make up less than 5% of the Middle East and their numbers are fast dwindling.
In Egypt, the fate of Christians lies with Mohammed Morsi, who used to be a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and who has lost no time in trying to introduce Sharia law to Egypt. Because Egypt’s 8-12 million Christian Copts make up only about 10-15% of Egypt’s population, they have for decades lived in fear as second-class citizens, subjected to attacks on churches, villages, homes, and shops; mob killings; and the abduction and forced Islamic conversion of Christian women compelled to marry Muslim men. If such abuse took place under the staunchly secular regime of Hosni Mubarak (which had banned the Muslim Brotherhood), what can the Christians expect under the rule of an Islamist like Mohammed Morsi?
In Lebanon, the Christian population is estimated to have dropped from over 50% to about 40%. Over the last few years, the de facto governing power in Lebanon has become Hezbollah, a heavily-armed, Iran-backed, terrorist organization. With this development and the instability produced by the Syrian civil war, the emigration of Christians out of Lebanon will probably only increase in the coming years.
In Syria, 2.5 million Christians comprise about 10% of the population and enjoyed some protection under the secular and often brutal regimes of the Assad dynasty. But when the Assad regime eventually falls, the past protection of Christians may be the cause of their future persecution by the next regime and/or by the Syrian Sunnis who suffered under Assad. Christians have already been targeted and killed by rebels, and the sectarian chaos and violence that will likely prevail in Assad’s wake will only increase the number of Christians fleeing Syria.
In Iraq, between 2003 and 2008, half of the 800,000 Iraqi Christians were estimated to have left, rendering those remaining even more insecure. In 2010, Salafist extremists attacked a Baghdad church during Sunday Mass, killing or wounding nearly the whole congregation.
The Arab Spring may exacerbate matters in much of the Middle East as Islamists now control the government or influence it enough to persecute Christians with impunity. As new Islamist regimes in the Middle East condone religious intolerance and introduce Sharia law, the long-term trend for Christians in their ancestral lands will only grow bleaker.
The one bright spot is the state of Israel – “the only place in the Middle East where Christians are really safe,” according to the Vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. Home to Christianity’s holiest sites and to a colorful array of Christian denominations, Israel has the only growing Christian community in the Middle East.
Because Israel is the only non-Muslim state in all of the Middle East and North Africa, it represents a small victory for religious minorities in the region, and serves as the last protector of freedom and security for Jews, Christians, Bahai, Druze, and others.
Noah Beck’s novel, The Last Israelis, published last July, highlights the vulnerabilities of religious minorities in the Middle East through the voice of a Christian Israeli Arab who serves on the Dolphin submarine alongside Israeli Jews.