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16928Middle East Christians suffer persecution and expulsion

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Sep 13, 2012

      BACKGROUND: Middle East Christians suffer persecution and expulsion

      Berlin (dpa) - More than 15 million Christians are thought to be living
      in the Arab world, although estimates are complicated by the fact that
      official statistics often put their numbers much lower than the
      Christian communities do themselves.

      The rising influence of Islamists has frequently been accompanied by
      increased harassment of Christians, ranging from bureaucratic
      inconvenience to terrorist attack.

      LEBANON: Lebanon is home to 18 Christian and Muslim religious groupings,
      with about 60 per cent of the population of more than 4 million
      professing Islam. Maronites, who split from the Syriac Orthodox Church
      in the 7th century, dominate among the 40 per cent of Lebanese
      describing themselves as Christian. With the aim of avoiding religious
      conflict, the Lebanese constitution lays down a proportional system. The
      country‘s president comes traditionally from the Maronite community. The
      Christian community also includes Greek Orthodox numbering about
      250,000, Armenian Orthodox of some 150,000 and around 20,000 Roman

      SYRIA: Syria regards itself as a secular state, although the president
      is required to be Muslim. Up to 10 per cent of the population of more
      than 20 million are Christian. The largest groups are the Greek Orthodox
      Church of Antioch, with a community of 500,000, and Catholics numbering
      420,000. Until the civil war erupted, Christians were largely free to
      practise their religion unhindered. Support for the regime of Bashar
      al-Assad from Christian communities has turned this religious minority
      into a target for Islamist rebels.

      PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Thousands of Christians have emigrated from the
      West Bank and the Gaza Strip over recent years. The reasons are the
      violence and terror that erupted after the start of the armed
      Palestinian resistance in 2000, Israel‘s blockade of the Gaza Strip,
      poor economic conditions and attacks on the community by radical
      Islamists. There are around 40,000 Catholics and Orthodox Christians of
      various kinds on the West Bank and a further 1,000 in the Gaza Strip.

      EGYPT: Egypt‘s Copts, whose church dates back to Christianity‘s earliest
      days, is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. There are
      between 7 and 12 million Copts in a total population of some 80 million
      Egyptians. Despite legal guarantees of religious freedom, violent
      confrontations between Muslims and Copts have erupted over recent years.
      Conflicts over places of worship and religious converts often end in
      violence. During the Arab Spring, Egyptians from all religions took part
      in demonstrations, but following the ousting of President Hosny Mubarak
      in February 2011, attacks on Christians actually increased.

      IRAQ: There were massacres and expulsions of Christians in some of the
      Middle East‘s oldest Christian communities under the dictatorship of
      Saddam Hussein. Since the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians have become a
      target for fundamentalist fanatics, and around 2,000 Christians have
      been killed. There are no reliable figures on the number of Christians
      remaining in Iraq, but estimates suggest there are fewer than 300,000
      left, from a figure that once reached 1.5 million. dpa fsr cha sit npr
      Author: Friedhelm Schachtschneider