Measuring Progress in the Arab World: Check the 'Christian Barometer'
by Leon Hadar
those who have celebrated the recent election in Iraq are concerned
that it could give birth to a government dominated by Shiite fundamentalist
parties that have little respect for the rights of women and minorities.
even those observers worried about the outcome in Iraq take some
comfort in the prospect that the liberalization of state-controlled
economies and the adoption of free-market reforms signals positive
change by Middle Eastern governments.
hope is primarily rooted in the East Asian experience, where economic
liberalization has helped expand the middle class and empower its
members to press for political reforms.
as China's experience demonstrates, there could be a long time delay
between the launching of free market reforms and the creation of
democratic institutions in the Middle East.
outside the box
matter how one approaches the issue, assessing movement towards
reform in the Middle East by considering just free elections, market
reforms or even the adoption of constitutions and bills of rights
does not provide a full picture. After all, these steps amount mostly
to political and legal arrangements and could be swiftly
reversed by a new government.
here is my idea: Why don't we measure progress towards freedom in
the Middle East focusing on the status of an integral element of
the region's political and social-demographic environment
its large Christian minorities?
Christian litmus test
of these people are highly educated and multilingual, have studied
and worked in the Europe and North America where they also
have a large diaspora. The Christians of the Middle East also tend
to be more secular and liberal than the surrounding Muslim majority.
put it differently, common sense backed by statistical and
anecdotal evidence provides you with this surprising but
dependable rule of thumb.
the Middle East becomes more free and prosperous, linked to the
west and hospitable to minorities and women, the higher is the probability
that the Christians will continue to live in and even return from
abroad to countries like Lebanon, Egypt or Syria.
vice versa, if the Christians sense that things are getting worse,
that the Arab country they live in is losing its commitment to political,
economic and religious freedom, they would tend emigrate from the
it the Middle East's "Christian barometer," which provides the world
with a more accurate measurement of the political temperature in
the Middle East than even the most sophisticated social scientific
no precise figures are available, most experts estimate that Christians
make up between seven and ten percent of the total population of
the Arab world, which translates to between 21 and 30 million Christians
of the numerically significant Christian minority groups include
the Copts of Egypt, the Maronites of Lebanon, the Assyrians of Iraq
and Greek Orthodox and Diaspora Armenians of Syria and the tribal
members of southern Sudan.
Maronites have been the leading force in the rise of a Lebanese
identity, and individual Christians have played an important role
in the secular Arab nationalist movement and in Arab cultural life.
the Copts and the Assyrians have declined into politically marginal
minorities as the Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum, Sudan's
capital, has been trying to assimilate the Christian (and animist)
the same time, since the U.S. invasion of Iraq the condition of
the more than one million Christians in that country Chaldeans,
Syrian, Latin and Armenian Catholics has deteriorated. Churches
in Iraq have burned, while scores of Christians have been killed.
According to press reports, 200,000 Iraqi Christians have left for
Syria and perhaps as many have left the region.
on the rise
enough, Saddam Hussein tried to suppress the religious identity
of the Christians as part of the effort to create a secular Iraqi
now, in the aftermath of the American invasion, the Christians sense
the rise of radical Islamic tendencies in both the ruling Shiite
majority and the Sunni minority.
the Christians in Iraq are trying to leave the country as
opposed to taking part in building a new liberal democracy. Joining
them in emigrating from the Middle East are the Christians in the
Holy Land. Many western-educated Palestinian Christian professionals
had actually returned to the West Bank during the Oslo peace process.
after the start of the Second Intifadah, and with signs that Islamic
radicals are strengthening their power, they are moving back to
North and South America, Europe and Australia.
in Lebanon, which was established by the French to provide autonomy
to the Maronites, the number of Christians has been dwindling.
census has been conducted among the population in that country,
but the best guess is that the Maronites constitute around 25%,
including many who hold dual citizenship and spend most of the year
which is only adding to a very depressing picture as the number
of Christians in the Middle East continues to shrink. The Arab world
is losing some of its best and brightest who could have played a
major role in an authentic not choreographed reform
process in the region.
pay attention to the "Christian Barometer." Only if and when the
Christians in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and elsewhere become more
bullish can we be confident that the region is becoming more open,
free, pluralistic and prosperous.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 The Globalist. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission
of the author.