Putting it in Perspective: Arab Spring Leaves Some Cold

Posted by Ilanit Sisso on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I followed the news closely as uprisings across the Arab world began in 2011. Image after image showed Muslims and non-Muslims standing together demanding freedom from totalitarian regimes. In Egypt, the Arab Spring resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak after almost 30 years of power. Just six months later, Mubarak stood trial and was charged with corruption and complicity in the killing of protestors. This brought hope to many across Egypt who had never dreamed that day would come.

Recent events of religious persecution make me question whether the Arab Spring in Egypt has actually achieved its intended results: freedom from oppression. During my internship at HIAS I have learned just how important religious freedom really is - something I often take for granted. Without freedom of religion, there can be no real freedom. When people are not able to openly practice their faith without being persecuted, their rights are substantially diminished and they become oppressed.

Since the revolution ended, Egypt's largest religious minority, Coptic Christians, have been increasingly subject to violence by extremists and even government authorities. The Coptic Church was established by St. Mark in Alexandria around 43 A.D. Today, Coptic Christians represent about 10% of the population in Egypt. Anti-Christian incidents have been incited by people angered by rumors over romances between Christians and Muslims or over the remodeling of churches. Other incidents reported by the media include the beating to death of a Christian student by his classmates for wearing a cross and the arrest of a Christian blogger who is known for criticizing the government.

On October 9, Coptic Christians were peacefully protesting government inaction after a church and Christian-owned homes and businesses were set on fire when extremists attacked the protesters with stones, sticks, and Molotov cocktails. In the end, 27 Christians were killed. Seventeen of those killed allegedly had been run over by military vehicles. Many others were beaten and sustained severe injuries.

These stories and images of violence do not reflect the democratic ideals that I read about a couple months ago during the Arab Spring. Throughout my time at HIAS, I have learned that a country free from oppression is one that grants its residents basic rights such as freedom of religion, and one that guarantees that these crucial ideals will be upheld. A country that systematically mistreats groups who hold different religious beliefs, fails to prosecute perpetrators of violence, places restrictions on the ability to repair places of worship, and doesn’t recognize conversion to a different faith is not free. Global leadership should work together with Egypt’s leaders to ensure that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are granted the freedoms that Egyptians fought for during the Arab Spring.

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