Last year’s Arab Spring saw popular uprisings spread across the Middle East as protesters forced out unelected dictators which had ruled for decades. What began with a desperate Tunisian fruit seller setting himself on fire caused a tidal wave of public fury which swept away long-hated regimes in its path. It led to the overthrow of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh as well as political upheaval in Jordan, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait and Morocco.
Many of these regimes were brutal, bloody and held onto power for so long by ruthlessly crushing all opposition – often with the funding and support of Western governments. The reception to the Arab Spring in the West appeared to be broadly positive although no doubt there was some unease in the corridors of power at the toppling of many Western ‘allies’.
Amongst some Western Christians there has been concern that new governments, such as that led by former Muslim Brotherhood politician Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, will see greater persecution of their Christian brothers and sisters. Before the massacre and bloodshed in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad was seen by many in the West as a beacon of progress and a valued ally for, among other things, protecting the rights of Christians in his country. In some quarters there is concern among Christians that these tyrants will be replaced by Islamic regimes less protective of Christian minorities.
I’m interested, as a Christian, to know what my response should be? Are our loyalties to fellow Christians more important than the overthrow of despotic leaders? Or should we rejoice at the defeat of brutal tyrants even if a new wave of democracy leads to governments which don’t share our religious beliefs?
We don’t fully know what long-term changes the Arab Spring will be bring to the region but it seems to me we should strive for and celebrate whenever evil dictatorships are overthrown.
I’m acutely aware how easy it is for me to sit here in the UK and talk abstractedly about this issue. We should work to support any minority suffering persecution. But as Christians, are we more offended and upset by the persecution of our own kind, over people of other faiths? If God has created everyone – in his own image no less – surely he despairs at all suffering and injustice, irrespective of who it is inflicted upon?
I’m reminded of the story Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan. He risked personal danger and considerable financial cost to help an injured Jewish man – at a time when Jews and Samaritans despised each other. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. It seems he was no fan of tribal loyalties. Should we not celebrate in the emancipation of Muslims in the Middle East while working to tackle any Christian persecution which may follow?
Image by Ahmed Abd El-Fatah, via Wikimedia Commons.