President Assad of Syria has adopted the same policy as Saddam Hussein to the christian minority in his country, following the principles of the secularism adopted by the older Arab nationalist regimes. Christian flight over the last few decades has meant that now only Lebanon with 30% of its population being christian, and Egypt with 10%, are the only Arab countries with more than a tiny minority subscribing to any faith apart from the dominant Islam.
Many of those christians who remain are feeling vulnerable as the last regimes which offered them protection begin to topple! One of the hopeful signs is that those driving change are mainly westernised in their adherence to human rights and individual freedom( good reason to celebrate the value of education and the Internet) and are not seemingly pursuing a Pan- Arabist or Islamist agenda, but ancient hostilities are still stirring. At a recent conference in Venice , the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria observed that the Arab Spring had merely punctuated a consistently bad situation with 3 weeks of euphoria- 26 christians having been killed this year! The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo lamented that a change of regime in Syria would spell the end of Christianity in that country.
But others were a bit more hopeful, trusting in the idealism of the young to protect freedoms-anyone who has ever glanced into the maelstrom that is the state of ecumenical relations in the christian Middle East will be cheered by the spectacle of a Catholic bishop from Tunis rejoicing that evangelical Protestants who receive muslim converts are currently being tolerated!