A seminar was held at the European Parliament in Brussels today to consider the effects of the so-called Arab Spring have had upon the Christian communities living in Muslim-majority countries of the Mideast. On May 9, European parliamentarians met with representatives of advocacy groups and churches to examine questions such as the following: To what extent is the 'Arab Spring' meeting the demands for more liberal values such as democracy and human rights? Will the diverse communities and cultures be respected?
The session was organized by representatives of the EP and ECR blocs in the parliament, and the Commission of the (Catholic) Bishops Conferences of Europe. Also attending were Middle Eastern diplomats, and representatives from Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors International, and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
"The European Union, when cooperating with and supporting the democratic movements, shall condition its involvement upon the respect for democratic rules, such as religious freedom", underlined Jan Olbrycht MEP, EPP Group Vice-Chairman responsible for intercultural relations. "Democratisation of the Middle East does not bring relief to the people who live there; it is a very bitter truth a year after the Arab Spring. The EU, if it wishes to remain credible as a defender of human rights, of which it is widely teaching the world, has to take a clear stance in defence of Christians in the Middle East. We demand reaction to every single act of discrimination and also expect that this problem is always present in political or trade talks between the EU and the Arab World", said Konrad Szymański MEP of the ECR Group.
Dr. Joe Vella Gauci, from COMECE, said "The Eastern Churches have coexisted with Islam for fourteen centuries and this notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges which have evolved over the centuries. Today, as in the past, difficulties and challenges are often linked to political problems and to the East-West conflict. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in the Maghreb and Mashreq countries in early 2011 must be considered as one of the most crucial historical turnarounds and paradigm shifts of the 21st Century. The events that the region has been witnessing are very significant and indicative. In the context of these Arab Revolutions, young people have cried out for freedom, equality, the right to work, citizens’ rights and the dignity of the human person. They wish to explore how to live in dignity in their respective countries, searching for how to live in peace and prosperity.”
Gauci continued "However, the aforesaid events are occasionally (and unfortunately) overshadowed by barbarous incidents committed by several individuals associated with different political and religious beliefs. As a consequence, the road that leads to the attainment of true democracy becomes unclear. The fundamental objective should be: respect for all citizens; the elimination of parallel societies; respect for diverse communities and cultures; and the creation of socio-political systems worthy of safeguarding human rights and democratic values.”
Finally, Gauci said "The basis for new political and social order should be the universal values that endorse respect for people and their legitimate rights. Furthermore, within the socio-religious context, one must take into account the religious dimension that is crucial for the social regulations at the social moral level and for certain behaviors that are based not only on human values, but also on spiritual ones “where the temporal remains charged with religious values” and to be seen to “participate in the same humanity”.
During the conference, the following speakers delivered their presentations: Berthold Pelster (Aid to the Church in Need), Esther Kattenberg (Open Doors International), Dr. Brian J Grim (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), Dr. Cornelius Hulsman (Editor of the Arab-West Report), Mgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa (Custody of the Holy Land), Dr. Dimyanos Kattar (Formerly of Ministry of Financial Affairs, Lebanon), Mgr. Prof Piotr Mazurkiewicz (COMECE), and Mgr. Youssef Soueif (The Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus).
There was also the chance to listen to the testimonies given by witnesses concerning the practice of religious freedom in the Arab World and to become familiar with the content of the Lebanon Conference Report and other reports on Christians in the Arab World.