Inside the Middle East
July 13, 2011
Posted: 941 GMT
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January 5, 2011
Posted: 1245 GMT

Hundreds of security officers in riot gear herded supporters of Coptic Christians down the streets of Shubra, a suburb of Cairo yesterday. The Copts and their Muslim supporters expressed outrage over a New Year's bombing outside the Coptic Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria that killed at least 21 and wounded 97 others.

The bombed church had been listed as a threatened target on the al Qaeda affiliated web site, Shumukh al Islam website. The website lists other Coptic churches in Egypt and in Europe, advising bombers to strike on January 7, when the churches will be crowded for the Coptic celebration of Christmas. Copts are adherents to an Egyptian sect of Christianity and make up about 9% of Egypt's population. A suicide bomber was believed to be behind the blast, which left the church littered with broken glass and debris and the walls spattered with blood.

Photo: Ian Lee/CNN
Photo: Ian Lee/CNN
Photo: Ian Lee/CNN
Photo: Ian Lee/CNN
Photo: Ian Lee/CNN
Photo: Ian Lee/CNN

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Filed under: Christianity •Egypt •Protests

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January 2, 2011
Posted: 1033 GMT

Some Christians in Iraq's capital were considering leaving, following a wave of bombings targeting members of their religion that left two dead and 16 others wounded.

Explosives were left outside and in the gardens of 14 homes in Baghdad..
Explosives were left outside and in the gardens of 14 homes in Baghdad..

"I am 60 years old and I gave a lot to this country, but this tough situation is like a message asking me to leave my country," said Kiyour Kizarab, the male head of a Christian family whose house was targeted Thursday in central Baghdad. "If these attacks will continue, and the government can't stop them, then I don't think we will have a future here."

The strikes appeared to be coordinated because they all took place within an hour, an Interior Ministry official said. Explosives were left outside and in the gardens of 14 homes in six neighborhoods across Iraq's sprawling capital.

Among the homes targeted by improvised explosive devices was one Muslim dwelling that was picked because it had a Christmas tree inside, the male head of the family, Ibrahim Sharba, told CNN. Read more...

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Filed under: Christianity •Iraq •Religion

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November 30, 2010
Posted: 942 GMT
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )

It’s really impressive to look up at the flight board at Baghdad International Airport these days – Abu Dhabi, Amman, Beirut, Istanbul, Cairo, Tehran are a few of the available daily trips.

I remember the days when commercial flights were limited to the one or two Royal Jordanian ones that were usually overbooked and getting out on one of those was always an “inshalla” – “God willing” scenario.

I also remember the days when you would glance around the airport and your average passenger would be the tattooed private security guy , the journalist, or the Iraqi member of parliament who would spend more time in Amman than in Baghdad.

Today, it was a handful of the usual suspects and a different crowd -  mostly Iraqi refugees, families who have packed their lives into one suitcase per person and set off on their journey to new homes.

As I queued up to get a coffee, a young Iraqi man approached me – I had met him a few years ago through work, he is now a refugee.

He asked me if I was going to the US – he was, along with his family.

Where are you going I asked – “Indiana” he said with a bit of a confused look, like he was not sure if I had heard of it. I told him I had visited Indiana a few years ago; “is it nice?” he asked.. I said yes, but very cold in the winter, we both laughed– Iraqis are more immune to the scorching heat of their country, not the harsh winters of the Midwest.

Why are you leaving I asked – he smiled and said “why would I stay? ...What should I stay for?” a familiar answer I have been hearing a lot lately from Iraqi colleagues, friends and people we meet—it’s also an answer that says it all and there was no reason to follow-up on that... I wished him luck as he walked away.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Christianity •Iraq •Islam

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November 25, 2010
Posted: 1027 GMT

A Christian protester was killed and dozens others were wounded Wednesday in violent clashes with police that erupted over permission to build a church here.

Egyptian police fired tear gas. The 150 demonstrators answered with Molotov cocktails.

In the aftermath of the melee, the ground in front of a government building in suburban Giza was littered with rocks and knocked-over potted plants.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said 93 people were arrested.

Tensions have been running high between Egypt's Muslim majority and minority Christians who make up about 9 percent of the people.

Copts, who are adherents of an Egyptian sect of Christianity, complain of discrimination, including the lack of freedom to build houses of worship. The government denies those accusations.

However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has expressed concern that the Egyptian government and media have deliberately promoted sectarian friction ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

"We've seen a clear uptick in recent weeks of incitement coming from media outlets and clerics espousing sectarian hatred and violence," said Leonard Leo, chairman of the independent, bi-partisan commission. "This kind of rhetoric goes too far and stokes the fire of extremists looking for ammunition to justify violent acts against religious minorities." Read more...

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Filed under: Christianity •Egypt •Religion •Video

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November 10, 2010
Posted: 717 GMT
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November 4, 2010
Posted: 1956 GMT

Following up on our previous post about Israel's anger over the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) designation of  a West Bank religious shrine as a mosque,  the Israeli Foreign Ministry has decided to stop working with the UN agency.

In a statement Israel's Deputy foreign  minister, Danny Ayalon,  announced  "the suspension of Israel’s cooperation with the organization (UNESCO) in the implementation of the five resolutions until these outrageous pronouncements are rescinded"

Ayalon went on to say that the UNESCO recommendations were based on the "automatic Arab majority" in the agency and that it had become a "rubber stamp" of the Palestinian Authority.

An Israeli government official said the move was meant to "send a message" to the UN agency about Israel's "extreme displeasure" with the mosque designation which the official called a "negation" of not only Jewish and Christian tradition but of Islamic history as well.

The press office at UNESCO had no immediate comment about the latest criticism.

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Filed under: Christianity •Islam •Israel •Judaism •Religion

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November 1, 2010
Posted: 1655 GMT
Mourners outside the Sayidat al-Nejat Church in Baghdad.(Mohammed Tawfeeq/CNN)
Mourners outside the Sayidat al-Nejat Church in Baghdad.(Mohammed Tawfeeq/CNN)

As the sun set over Baghdad, shocked onlookers stood by, watching a truck laden with debris drive away from the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic church.
Silvana Maro stood outside her home near the church, eyes filled with tears, in such shock she could hardly speak. She was a survivor, now plagued by the vivid memory of what she had lived through.
Mass was in process when the attackers stormed in.
“There was gunfire, grenades.  Shrapnel was flying from all sides.  We scattered and threw ourselves to the ground, we didn’t know what would happen to us” She whispered softly, choking on her words.
“They said if anyone lifts their head we will shoot.  My cousin moved slightly.  They shot him, his brains exploded all over”.
Anna Hannow held her aunt’s bloodied purse, the stench of death still fresh.  Her aunt was eighty years old.
“They shot her in the face, there was nothing left of her face” She told us.
As the sun set a coffin was carried in.  A woman sobbed, comforted in vain by another onlooker. Iraqi forces kept the media and bystanders away.
There was a time when Christianity and Islam co-existed peacefully in Iraq, but the Christian community here has not been spared the ravages of the country's sectarian warfare.  Over the years their numbers have dwindled with more choosing to leave every week.

For some staying is the only option.  Others choose to do so out of conviction, refusing to allow violence and threats to drive them from the country they call home.
The attack on Sunday was the first of its kind.  According to the a senior official with the Ministry of Interior, the insurgents first targeted the Baghdad Stock Exchange and blew up two car bombs as a diversion, to draw in the Iraqi unit manning the checkpoints close to the church.
As mass was in full progress – with some 120 worshippers – the attackers, some wearing suicide vests, stormed the building and wreaked carnage. Dozens were killed.
The Islamic state of Iraq, an umbrella organization that includes al Qaeda claimed responsibility. Their demand was the release of prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.  Their statement said the hostage taking was a direct warning to the Egyptian Coptic Church, a response to the case of two Egyptian women allegedly abducted by the Coptic Church after they converted to Islam.
A young man who survived said “They brought us the real Halloween”.
The faces of those we met reflected the extent of the horror their words could not express.

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Filed under: Christianity •Iraq

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October 25, 2010
Posted: 901 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI presides over the last day of the synod of bishops from the Middle East at the Vatican(OSSERVATORE ROMANO/AFP/Getty Images).
Pope Benedict XVI presides over the last day of the synod of bishops from the Middle East at the Vatican(OSSERVATORE ROMANO/AFP/Getty Images).


 A two-week conference of Catholic bishops to discuss the situation of Christians in the Middle East has stirred some controversy.

At the conclusion of the Vatican gathering, called a synod in church terminology,  bishops released a communique Saturday that among other things called for the international community "to put an end to the occupation"  and an exhortation that the bible should not be used by Israel as a pretext to justify injustices.

The communique and remarks in a closing press conference by Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros brought charges of "libel" from Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalaon on Sunday and a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, said the bishops were "committing a sin towards the truth"  by ignoring the fact  that "Israel is the one  country in the region that is welcoming to Christians"

Palmor cited statistics showing the Christian population in Israel had been growing steadily throughout the years due to natural growth and immigration. He said that Christians face pressure in many countries in the Middle East because of Islamic law and  Muslim extremism, but that Israel was not one of them.

Rabbi David Rosen who serves as the director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish committee and spoke before the synod as special guest earlier in the month called the omissions of  the conference's  final statement "appalling".

"...the bishops did not have the courage to address challenges of intolerance and extremism in the Muslim countries in which they reside, and rather chose to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their first focus" Rosen said in a statement.

For its part the Palestinian Authority welcomed the conclusions from the Vatican gathering.

"Israel cannot use the biblical concept of a promised land or chosen people to justify new settlements in Jerusalem or Israeli territorial claims," Saeb Erakat, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and a chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement Sunday.

Erakat said the synod sent "a clear a message to the government of Israel that it may not claim that Jerusalem is an exclusively Israeli city."

"(In) coming weeks we will engage in discussions with the Vatican on ways to further consolidate our fantastic relations," Erakat said. "

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Filed under: Christianity •Islam •Israel •Judaism •Palestinians •Religion

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October 20, 2010
Posted: 749 GMT
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