Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Christians

The Subversive Power of Grief

Paul Sedra 12.13.2016

One need not cast one’s mind too far back to see that both the Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church are worried more about the December 11 church bombing’s destabilizing potential than about the national unity they spoke of during the state-run funeral.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Jonathan Cook 05.13.2014

For the past 18 months the Israeli government has gradually raised the stakes in its campaign to pressure Palestinian Christians to serve in the Israeli military. In April, Israel upped the ante once again, announcing it would henceforth be issuing enlistment notices to Christians who have graduated from secondary school. This time, the Greek Orthodox patriarch responded, sacking a senior Nazareth priest, Jibril Nadaf, who had styled himself the spiritual leader of a small but vociferous group of Palestinian Christians who back the government campaign.

Antoon, Ya Maryam

Sinan Antoon, Ya Maryam (Beirut/Baghdad: Dar al-Jamal, 2012).

Becoming Armenian in Lebanon

Each year in April, the municipality of Burj Hammoud, a densely populated residential and commercial city just east of Beirut, hosts a three-day festival called Badguer, the Armenian word for “image.” Free and open to the public, the event has variously been staged in an old concrete factory, a blocked-off street and other sites. In 2012, Badguer was held at La Maison Rose, a newly opened cultural center for Armenian artists and craftsmen. Like the annual celebration, La Maison Rose is part of a local effort to promote “our living Armenian cultural patrimony.”

With Friends Like These

In June 2010, amidst escalating controversy over the construction of a mosque and Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center, two Egyptians found themselves on the receiving end of xenophobic abuse as a crowd accosted them with calls to “go home.” Unbeknownst to the angry mob, the two Arabic-speaking men, Joseph Nasralla Abdelmasih and Karam El Masry, had come all the way from California to join the protest against what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque.” In fact, Abdelmasih and El Masry, who were eventually escorted away for their own safety by police officers, were involved with “The Way,” a Christian satellite television program established in 2010 that broadcasts in English and Arabic.

Copts Under Mursi

Throughout his 2012 presidential campaign, Muhammad Mursi was keen to emphasize that he would be a president for all Egyptians, not just supporters of the Society of Muslim Brothers, and that he believed in equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religious affiliation. The majority of Egypt’s Coptic Christians were nonetheless suspicious of the Muslim Brother candidate, and in the first round many voted for one of the other main contenders, Ahmad Shafiq or Hamdin Sabbahi. Almost a year into Mursi’s presidency, it is clear that the Coptic minority — roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population — did not overestimate either the threat to their rights or the strain on social cohesion that would attend a Mursi victory.

Iraqi Christians: A Primer

Media coverage in the West can overstate the degree to which Christians are “disappearing” from the Middle East. But one place where such characterizations have merit is Iraq. In the years since the 2003 invasion led by the United States, at least half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country to escape the violence of war, occupation and insurgency, as well as a campaign of intimidation, forced expulsion and sectarian cleansing carried out by militias and criminal gangs. Numerous others have been internally displaced.

Covering the Christians of the Holy Land

Every year around Christmas and Easter, a kind of meta-ritual takes place in which American journalists describe how these holidays are celebrated in the “Holy Land.” It is a long-running story, never stripped of politics. In 1923, for example, the New York Times published a classically Orientalist opposition of here and there, us and them. Easter in Jerusalem was a “frenzy of devotion,” “an annual release of the entire community, such as you and I in New York know nothing of. Somewhere in the centuries during which our ancestors were moving westward from the Middle East we have lost the gift of it and we have never recaptured it.” [1]

From the Editors (Summer 2013)

The problems of Christians in the Middle East are often not discussed forthrightly, either in the region or in writings about it. One reason is that, in many ways, the problems of Christians are everyone’s problems — Israeli occupation hurts Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike, as does second-class citizenship for Palestinians inside the Green Line. In Egypt and Syria, Christians and Muslims alike have suffered the effects of authoritarian rule. The confessional system in Lebanon applies to everyone. And war and sanctions in Iraq respected no difference, religious or otherwise. Another reason for the reticence is the anti-Muslim hysteria that frequently attends the topic of Middle Eastern Christians in the Western media.

Reconstituting the Coptic Community Amidst Revolution

Egypt’s Coptic community marked the passing in 2012 of two widely known and influential public figures. The first was the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, who died on March 17. Shenouda had celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his enthronement as patriarch the previous November. The second was Milad Hanna, professor of civil engineering at ‘Ayn Shams University and veteran writer on public affairs in the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper, who passed away on November 27. While Shenouda was the leader of the Orthodox Church hierarchy and thus of the clerical establishment, Hanna was one of the most prominent and outspoken members of the Coptic laity.

Copts in the “Egyptian Fabric”

To talk about Egyptian Christians as a “minority” is to open a can of worms. The sensitivity of the relationship between Egyptian Muslims and Christians was evident in 1994 when a conference on minorities in the Middle East, supposed to be held in Cairo, included the Copts of Egypt on its agenda. [1] The uproar surrounding the conference was unprecedented. As Egyptian sociology professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim put it, “It was the biggest public debate in Egypt on a single issue since the Gulf crisis and Desert Storm.” Ibrahim’s Cairo-based Ibn Khaldoun Center organized the controversial conference together with the Minority Rights Group in London.

Religion and Political Identity in Bayt Sahour

In 1989, the West Bank village of Bayt Sahour made international headlines by staging a successful tax strike against Israeli military authorities. My introduction to Bayt Sahour came six years earlier, in late December 1983, when I attended Latin Christmas Eve celebrations at Manger Square in neighboring Bethlehem. In mid-afternoon, Palestinian scouts in colorful uniforms, carrying banners and playing bagpipes and drums, marched into the square to greet the Latin Patriarch on his arrival from Jerusalem to prepare for Midnight Mass.

“Everyone Misunderstood the Depth of the Movement Identifying with Aoun”

Mansour Raad is the pen name of an Arab journalist who recently left Beirut and has followed the Lebanese war closely. Joe Stork spoke with him in Europe in late November 1989.

Who is Gen. Aoun and what does his “war of liberation” represent?

Mosque and Church in the Uprising

It was only one of the hundreds of incidents that cumulatively have come to be known as “the uprising.” Here there were no beatings or shootings, no bloodshed, and, as far as I know, no one was arrested. In fact, compared with the dramatic events we have been witnessing nightly on the evening news, this was such a tame one-act drama that even the participants may have by now forgotten that it took place. But on a Sunday morning in early January, when the uprising was about a month old, an incident took place just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City that imparted a certain clarity to me about the nature and significance of the events of the past months.

Halsell, Prophecy and Politics

Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1986).

While there is nothing particularly new about Christian fascination with the Biblical “holy land,” Grace Halsell provides an important contemporary portrayal of the means by which this has been molded to enhance the political legitimacy of modern Israel. She documents the growth of a “cult of Israel” among the ranks of “born-again” Christians in the United States.

Letters (June 1982)

To the editors: This letter is in regard to your most recent issue on Iran, “Khomeini and the Opposition” (MERIP Reports 104). It includes interviews with representatives of the right opposition (Bakhtiar) as well as the left opposition. The latter, we learn, includes the Islamic left (Mojahedin’s Rajavi), independent socialists (Hezarkani) and liberals (Bani-Sadr and Nobari) — all of whom, we know, are affiliated with the National Council of Resistance. Are MERIP readers to assume that Khomeini’s left-wing opposition consists solely of the above? Or is MERIP suggesting that the above comprise the only “significant” opposition?

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