The Jordanian Middle East Studies Center and the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies organized a seminar in the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday under the title “Arab Islamists and Christians.” The event tackled the relationship between post-revolution Islamist regimes and Christian minorities in the Arab region.
“Throughout a history of 2,000 years, Arab Christians have never felt as confused as they do now following the revolutions that swept the region,” Bishop Yohanna Kalta, deputy patriarch of the Catholic Church in Egypt told conference attendees.
Kalta explained that the Jan. 25 revolution itself drew Egyptian Muslims and Christians closer because they were all united behind one cause; namely toppling Mubarak’s regime.
“However, it was the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood that shook the confidence Christians had started acquiring during the revolution.”
Kalta stressed that equality between all citizens is the only way Arab revolutions can be considered successful.
“This necessitates putting an end to mutual incriminations in media outlets as well as reviewing school curricula.”
Kalta concluded his address with asserting the importance of cooperation between Muslims and Christians to achieve the goals of the revolution in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
“Muslim progress is closely linked to Christian progress.”
Dr. Kamel Abu Jaber, head of the Amman-based Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, said that dialogue is the only means through which a vision about the future of the region can be reached.
“I don’t only mean Muslim-Christian dialogue, but also Muslim-Muslim and Christian-Christian.”
According to Abu Jaber, the influence of Western civilization has caused a great deal of confusion in the region as it is struggling to formulate its identity.
“It is like a process of labor, for we need to come up with a new formula that is satisfactory.”
Jawad al-Hamad, head of the Middle East Studies Center, said the victory of Islamists in several post-revolution countries gave the impression that those countries might turn into another South Africa during the apartheid.
“It is true that some violations had taken place as far as Christian rights are concerned, but these remain individual incidents that are triggered by criminal rather than sectarian motives.”
For Hamad, Arab revolutions present an excellent opportunity for unity between the Muslim and Christian citizens of each country in accordance with the principles of citizenship.
“Those revolutions have also started the culture of peaceful protests and freedom of expression and this makes each party capable of voicing its concerns without infringing upon the rights of other parties.”
Hamza Mansour, secretary general of Jordanian opposition party the Islamic Action Front, admitted that the concerns of Christians have increased following the coming to power of Islamists in several countries in the region.
“Yet several of those concerns come as a reaction to external campaigns launched against Islamists by anti-Islamic powers,” he said.
Mansour explained that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan stressed its adoption of the principles of citizenship that make all people equal regardless of religious affiliations in accordance with the law and the constitution.
“On the other hand, personal status laws and religious right should be dealt with in accordance with each faith.”
According to Dr. Riad Jarjour, secretary general of the Arab Team for Muslim-Christian Dialogue in Lebanon, Christians are mainly worried that Islamic laws would become the only source of legislation and Christians would start having fewer rights.
“Large numbers of Christians would consider immigration if they are marginalized.”
Jarjour explained that emptying Arab countries of their Christian citizens is a Western ploy that aims at eliminating the culture of diversity with which the region has always been distinguished.
“Churches should play a role in obstructing this plan through coming out of their isolation and shedding off their sectarian prejudices.”
Dr. Hesham Gaafar, an Egyptian expert in political Islam, called upon Christians to get rid of fears that are basically instilled by external powers.
“Some fears are justified, but others are groundless and mainly driven by sheer Islamophobia.”
For Emad Gad, Egyptian political analyst and researcher at al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, dictatorial regimes are to be blamed for sectarian tension in the Arab world.
“Those regimes made a point of scaring Christians of Muslims in order to remain in power. They also did not allow Christians to form an integral part of the political scene and this is clear with Copts in Egypt.”