BRUSSELS – The recent abductions of Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and his Greek Orthodox counterpart, Paul Yazigi, reflect not only the increasing brutality of Syria’s civil war, but also the escalating crisis for Christians across the Arab world – one that could end up driving them away altogether.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80% of all acts of religious persecution worldwide in 2012 were directed at Christians. This surge in discrimination against Christian communities in countries where they have lived for many centuries can be explained largely by increasing Islamist militancy and the rise of political Islam in the wake of the Arab Spring. As Islamist parties have taken power in the region, a wave of intimidation and discrimination has been unleashed on Christian minority populations.
For example, on February 26, at a garment market in Benghazi, Libya, members of a powerful Islamist militia rounded up dozens of Egyptian Coptic Christians – identified by crosses tattooed on their right wrists – whom they then detained, tortured, and threatened with execution. Among the victims was a Coptic priest, whom the captors beat severely before shaving his head and moustache. Priests have also been assaulted in Tripoli, and churches have been torched. All of this sends a clear message: non-Muslims are not safe in Libya.
While Libya has no significant religious minority, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians live and work in the country, where Christian proselytizing is illegal – and where one can be accused of proselytizing simply for possessing a Bible. But Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government does not seem particularly eager to protect its Christian citizens in Libya; it offered only a half-hearted call for the release of its detained citizens.