By Baroness Cox - 29th November 2011
Baroness Cox warns that the political upheavals and regime changes in the Arab world could have worrying consequences for religious freedom.
The cataclysmic changes in the wake of regime changes in Arab countries have created volatile and politically unpredictable situations, together with concerns over security for citizens.
In these early days following political upheavals and regime changes, complex scenarios are emerging – and it is still too early to discern trends which bode well or ill for religious freedom for minority faiths. Tunisia seems cause for cautious optimism; but the targeting of Christians in Iraq constitutes a frightening example of what could happen, and the situation in Egypt is cause for growing concern for Coptic Christians.
Tunisia.A Reuters report (Nov 9th) claims minority Jewish and Christian communities are cautiously optimistic that Tunisia's nascent democracy will ensure its new Islamist-led leadership respects their rights in this traditionally secular state.
Egypt. Coptic Christians constitute around 10 per cent of the 80 million Egyptian population. They suffered systematic discrimination and episodes of violence before the Revolution. However, their situation has worsened since President Mubarak was ousted: there have been over 44 attacks against Christians since January 25th, compared with 53 incidents over two years between January 2008 and 2010. There is deep concern over the influence of Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. On 'Egypt's Bloody Sunday', October 9th, a peaceful demonstration by Coptic Christians, protesting over the destruction of a church by a mob, resulted in at least 19 deaths and over 150 injured, with 12 Copts crushed under the wheels of armoured vehicles.
Since the Revolution, there has been massive emigration of Christians. A report by the European Union of Human Rights Organisation on September 27th claimed nearly 100,000 Christians have left Egypt since March 2011. 'Copts are not emigrating voluntarily, they are coerced into that by threats and intimidation of hard-line Salafists, and the lack of protection they are getting from the Egyptian regime'.(Naguib Gabriel, EUHRO Director).
Arab Spring or Arab Winter?According to Gabriel, Christians in Egypt foresee a dark future, because neither SCAF nor the government is taking any measures to curb the Salafist violence. 'They should bring to justice those criminals who attack the Copts and their churches, instead of letting them off Scot-free.'
Gabriel calls on the SCAF to pull in the reins of the Salafists and to clearly announce that Egypt is a democratic, secular state, based on equal citizenship for all Egyptians.
Caroline Cox is the founder chief executive officer of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust and is a former deputy speaker of the House of Lords (1986-2005). She was raised to the peerage in 1983 and now sits as a crossbencher.