It wasn’t much of a Christmas for the Christians of the Middle East. Wherever you go in the region you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into a Christian winter. Indeed, the entire last decade has been catastrophic for the region’s beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority.
In Egypt, the political upheavals have been accompanied by a series of anti-Coptic riots and intermittent bouts of church burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours. Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two-thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam.
About the author
- William Dalrymple is a writer and historian
- A Point of View is usually broadcast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 GMT and repeated Sundays, 08:50 GMT
It was Syria that took in many Christians driven out of Iraq a decade ago. Now those Iraqi refugees find themselves facing a second displacement while their Syrian hosts are themselves living in daily fear of having to flee for their lives. Most of the bloodiest killings and counter-killings in Syria have been along Sunni-Alawite faultlines, but there have been some reports of attacks, rape and murder directed at the Christian minority. There are more and more reports of violent al-Qaeda-inspired Salafists taking over the resistance against the Assad regime. The Christian community, which makes up around 10% of the total population, is now frankly terrified. Many are fleeing for Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. There are tragic reports emerging of the wholesale emigration of the ancient Armenian community of Syria.
For much of this century, and long before the Assads came to power, Syria was a reliable refuge for the Christians of the Middle East. In Assad’s Syria, the major Christian feasts are still national holidays. In the Christian Quarter of Old Damascus around Bab Touma, electric-blue neon crosses wink from the domes of the churches, and processions of crucifix-carrying Boy Scouts can be seen squeezing past gaggles of Christian girls in low-cut jeans and tight-fitting T-shirts.