Article: The “Arab Spring”: A challenge to the Christian minorities of the Middle East

In the March 2013 edition of the “Armenian-German Correspondence” (Armenisch-Deutsche Korrespondenz, ADK) OIB research associate Thomas Scheffler published a brief analysis of the current uprisings in the Arab world and their impact on the region’s Christian minorities. For Oriental Christians, the simplistic choice between “democracy” and “dictatorship” often conceals a tragic double-bind dilemma:  Democratization threatens to increase the political power of Islamist movements; continuing loyalty to the region’s old regimes threatens to alienate Christians not only from large segments of the Muslim majority population, but also from Western ideals of ‘democratic progress’. In addition, the chaos accompanying the violent overthrow of an old order usually exposes small and scattered minorities to greater security risks than larger and more compact population groups. Until now, Western support for the region’s ‘democratization’ has done little to set these fears at rest:  In view of the fate of Armenian Christians in the 20th century and the dramatic decimation of Iraqi Christians after the US intervention of 2003, belief in a ‘natural’ convergence between the interests of ‘the West’ and Oriental Christianity is on the wane. The paper summarizes a range of minority strategies to deal with this dilemma: apart from ‘exit’ strategies like remaining silent or preparing for emigration, they include cautious loyalty to the powers that be in order to gain time for their internal reform, building alliances with other minorities, and searching for local partners that could help shaping democratization in ways that are compatible with the interests of minorities (e.g. separation of religion and politics, cultural autonomy, political decentralization, and human rights policies).

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