Christians in the Arab World: One year after the Arab Spring
On Wednesday 9 May, the EPP and ECR political Groups of the European Parliament co-organised together with COMECE a half-day Seminar on Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. The events that the region has been witnessing are very significant but the road that leads to the attainment of true democracy becomes even more unclear.
During the Award Ceremony on 14 December, 2011, Jerzy Buzek, then EU Parliament President, emphasised that “[by] awarding the Sakharov Prize to the five Arab Spring activists, the European Parliament recognises the efforts of all those who struggle for dignity, basic freedoms [including Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience] and political change in the Arab world”. Taking his words as a yardstick, we would like to analyse how the so-called “Arab Spring” is affecting Christians scattered throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The Eastern Churches have coexisted with Islam for fourteen centuries and this notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges which have evolved over the centuries, since the time of the Crusades (11th-13th centuries). These difficulties and challenges are often linked to political problems and to the East-West conflict.
The so-called “Arab Spring” in the Maghreb and Mashriq in early 2011 must be considered as one of the most crucial historical turnarounds and paradigm shifts of the 21st century. The events that the region has been witnessing are very significant and also indicative.
In the context of these “Arab Revolutions” young people have cried out for freedom, equality, the right to work, citizens’ rights and the dignity of the human person. Their great desire is to explore how to live in dignity in their respective countries, searching for how to live in peace and prosperity.
However, the aforesaid events are occasionally eclipsed by barbarous incidents committed by several individuals or small groups associated with different political and religious beliefs. As a consequence, the road that leads to the attainment of true democracy becomes even more unclear.
The fundamental objective should be: respect for all citizens; the elimination of parallel societies; respect for diverse religious and ethnic minorities and communities; and the creation of socio-political systems worthy of safeguarding human rights and democratic values and of endorsing ‘dialogue between the minorities’.
The basis for a new legislative order should be the universal values that endorse the respect for human persons and their legitimate rights. Furthermore, within the socio-religious context, one must take into account the religious dimension that is crucial for the social regulations – “where the temporal remains charged with religious values” and to be seen to “participate in the same humanity”.
Here, I would like to borrow and make my own the words of His Eminence Cardinal Tauran, uttered during a meeting dealing with the particular topic of Christian-Muslim Relations, wherein he stated that Christians and Muslims are facing three perennial challenges, namely: the issue of identity; the issue of recognising each other’s difference; the issue of sincerity thus proposing the faith to the other with respect and dignity.
As rightly stated by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (European Commissioner for Home Affairs), “The Arab Spring [has] also caused tensions in the EU.” In fact, she explained this kind of tension by the “inward-looking and security oriented [behaviour]” of the EU Member States, “instead of reaching out and protecting”. Her exact words are: “It is as if we had said to them: It is wonderful that you make a revolution and want to embrace democracy but, by all means, stay where you are because we have an economic crisis to deal with here.” Speaking of the “Arab Spring”, she admitted that, “The revolution may have started, but the process of the Arab Spring is still in its early stages.” She reminds the EU of its “special responsibility” that of helping these individual Arab countries to attain “Respect for human rights and promoting democratic values”, which after all “are basic principles which the EU was founded upon.”
Fr Joe Vella Gauci