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The Colder Side of the “Arab Spring”

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By William Shwayri – law school intern at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates
religious freedom

For the seeds of democracy to be properly planted in the Middle East, the rights of all religious communities must be protected.

As the United States government and American people continue to support pro-democracy movements throughout the Middle East, there is a colder side of the “Arab Spring” that has largely been ignored by American policy makers – increasing violence towards the Middle East’s Christian community.

Previously a beacon of religious diversity, falling birthrates and emigration to the west stemming from political and economic problems in the region, have led to a Christian exodus from the holy land.  Estimates put the population of Christians in the Middle East at 5% today.  This is down from 20% a century ago.  In the past month, following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, the rise of sectarianism in Egypt has led to clashes between Egypt’s Sunni Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority with over 20 dead and 200 wounded.  The Christian community of Syria, long protected by the Syrian government, is fearful that the fall of the Assad regime in Syria will lead to the rise of Islamic extremism in Syria and potentially their demise.

The Christians of Syria and Egypt are well aware of the situation of Iraq’s once flourishing Christian community.  While protected under Saddam Hussein’s regime, 40% of Iraq’s once 800,000 strong Christian community have been forced to flee Iraq.  Although Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights, recently expressed his concerns regarding the Iraqi Christian community, most Iraqi Christians have chosen to seek asylum in Europe rather than attempting to seek asylum in the United States.  However, in Jacob v. Holder, the Ninth Circuit reversed a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals and recognized that Iraqi Christians continue to face a well founded fear of persecution in spite of recent enhancements to the overall security situation in Iraq.

Additionally, Lebanon has seen its Christian community numbers fall significantly in recent decades.  Once the dominant force in the tiny Mediterranean country, the Lebanese Christian community has seen many of its former privileges and powers transferred to other religious groups in Lebanon’s diverse myriad of sectarian groups.  The courts have looked at persecution towards this community as well but in El-Labaki v. Mukasey, the First Circuit held that the Lebanese Christian petitioner failed to establish a well founded fear of persecution.

For the seeds of democracy to be properly planted in the Middle East, the rights of all religious communities must be protected.

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