Richard John Neuhaus once observed that the “language of solidarity in our time is much used and much abused.” For the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, however, even token expressions of solidarity from America — especially America’s Christian community — would be welcomed. In the aftermath of Egypt’s June 30 revolution, in which millions of Egypt’s Christians marched alongside millions of moderate and secular Muslims to demand the removal of an Islamist regime, Christians find themselves once again in the crosshairs of Islamists.
Speculation that Egypt’s Christians, particularly Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, were architects of the revolution has heightened Christians’ fear of reprisals. Christians are convenient scapegoats for the Islamists, in Egypt and elsewhere. They are also vulnerable targets for violence, especially in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.
Prior to the revolution, Islamists had stood outside churches with signs that read, “If you go into the streets on June 30, you will bring black days upon yourselves.” Christians went into the streets anyway. While there was Christian support for the removal of an Islamist regime that had systematically threatened and persecuted Christians, it was a broad coalition of Egyptians that sought the removal of Morsi — far more broad and numerous than that which toppled Mubarak in 2011. This fact has thus far been largely overlooked by Western observers and policymakers.
The early consensus of the Obama administration, much like America’s foreign-policy establishment and America’s media, has gravitated against Egypt’s revolution. This fits into a deeply troubling pattern that has emerged in this administration — namely, the tendency to tolerate or treat with extremism where moderate alternatives exist. In Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, the Obama administration has aligned itself with Islamists and against the revolutionary proponents of secularism, liberalism, and pluralism. In Syria, the administration first covertly, and then overtly, armed rebels closely affiliated with al-Qaeda — many of whom have attacked and killed Syria’s defenseless Christians, which Nina Shea documented in a thoroughly disconcerting must-read last week. Many at home and abroad continue to question the administration’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism in the Middle East. In defiance of both an Islamist regime and U.S. policy in the region, Egyptians reasserted their own values last week.
The peaceful rising of the Egyptian people against the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi constitutes the first popular overthrow of an Islamist regime in the Middle East. Beyond revolution, it was a restoration of Egypt’s heritage of secular moderation. Had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians. Egypt is the largest nation-state in the Arab world, with strong traditions of secular governance and a Christian minority that constitutes approximately 10 percent of the population. That this was the site of the first revolution against an Islamist regime is of inestimable significance, not merely for Egypt but for the Arab world, whose moderates look to Egypt as the standard bearer. If moderation fails in Egypt, it bodes ill for moderates elsewhere.
As Joseph Kassab, a Chaldean Christian and human-rights advocate, has observed, Christians are vital to the Middle East because they are a bridge to the outside world. Without Christians and other minorities, the entire Middle East would soon come to resemble the uniform extremism of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most brutal and oppressive regime in the world — a state sponsor of extremism, anti-Semitism, and arguably terror. According to Amnesty International, crucifixion still occurs in Saudi Arabia. The fact that such regimes do not advance American interests ought to be self-evident. Apparently it is not.
It is with the Middle East’s moderates — not the Islamists, who seek to eradicate religious pluralism — that America should stand. It is unlikely that the Egyptians’ overwhelming rebuke of Islamist governance will prompt much soul searching in the West Wing or Foggy Bottom. So it falls to those outside the administration and the foreign-policy establishment — religious leaders, human-rights advocates, and American taxpayers — to demand policies that protect minorities and fundamental human rights, beginning with religious freedom.
Democracy, if it has any real value, must mean more than mere elections; it must include the protection of fundamental human rights. If democracy does not mean the rule of law, robust civil society, and strong protections for religious and ethnic minorities, it is essentially devoid of value. Those who cherish freedom of conscience and religion should stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable in the Middle East, especially its Christians — the region’s most powerful symbol of pluralism. Those who value human rights should stand with secularists, Muslim and Christian, in Egypt, who risked their lives in peaceful demonstrations to stop Islamist tyranny. To speak out on behalf of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is to be in solidarity with those Muslims in Egypt and throughout the Middle East who long for secular governance and the universal values recognized in America’s Declaration of Independence.
— Andrew Doran served on the Executive Secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, where he has since worked as a consultant. His views are his own.