Palm Sunday: Is there a ray of hope for Christians in the Middle East?

Published April 28th, 2013 - 15:20 GMT

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Image 1 of 8: Saudi has long come under fire for its strict limits on religious freedom which ban the creation of non-Muslim places of worship and the observance of non-Islamic religious rituals. The Minister of Justice recently reaffirmed this, saying: "The cradle of the Muslim sanctities will not allow the establishment of any other places of worship."

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
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Image 1 of 8: Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II recently said that fear and worry have driven Coptic Christians to leave Egypt. Earlier this month, two people died and at least 90 were injured when unknown assailants attacked mourners outside St Mark’s cathedral in Cairo during a funeral service for four Copts killed in sectarian violence.

Ezzat Attalah
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Image 1 of 8: Ezzat Attalah was one of five Coptic Egyptians held in Libya on charges of proselytising when he died in police custody. While Attalah reportedly suffered from diabetes and heart disease, many believe he died as a result of torture. His death provoked rage among Egypt’s Coptic community, who protested outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo.

Syrian bishops
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Image 1 of 8: Earlier this month, two Aleppo bishops were reportedly kidnapped by Syrian rebels on the outskirts of the city. The driver of Boulos al-Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo and Iskandaroun and Yuhanna Ibrahim, the Syrian-Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, was killed during the attack. The fate of the abducted bishops remains a mystery.

Arab-Israeli Christians
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Image 1 of 8: Israeli plans to conscript Arab-Israeli Christians to the IDF caused a wave of outrage when it was floated late last year. Many perceived the move as a way to stir up sectarian rifts amongst Israeli Arabs, in a classic case of “divide and rule.”

Lebanon film Fetih 1453 banned
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Image 1 of 8: Lebanese Christians protested so vehemently against a film they felt was insulting to their religion, it was banned across the country. One politician even stated the Turkish “Fetih 1453” was made to breed hatred between cultures.

Tunisia Christian being beheaded
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Image 1 of 8: Tunisia was once considered a haven of religious tolerance in the Middle East but a gruesome video of a Christian being beheaded was posted online in 2012. The executioners sing anti-Chrisitian songs as they carry out the brutal killing.

romeo and juliet
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Image 1 of 8: Jordan’s not known for a vibrant inter-faith society but there remains a Christian stronghold in Fuheis. An interfaith marriage proposal and conversion to Islam of a Fuheis dweller sparked protests in the town, with Christians desperate to preserve the character of their town. Seems like the violence goes both ways.

Sunday is the Orthodox Palm Sunday, celebrating when Jesus returned to the city of Jerusalem. The day is known as  Shaa'nineh in Arabic and is one of most important dates in the Orthodox religious calendar.

The event enables families to come together celebrate mass, and the day is traditionally a familiar affair and an excuse to cook up a good feast and is well celebrated across the Levant nations of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and beyond.

Palm Sunday also starts the Holy Week, the run up to Easter.

The Middle East though, long associated with Muslims, has a wealth of Christian traditions. With dwindling numbers some Christians are increasingly feeling marginalized.

Coptic Christians in Egypt have come under particular stresses, inspite of President Mohammed Morsi saying that he will be the president "for all Egyptians". Attacks have been frequent and often violent. On the holiday of Palm Sunday, the coptic pope in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, warned that many are considering emigrating after months of attacks.

Last week, Syria witnessed a worrying development for Christians the world over, as two bishops were kidnapped in Aleppo. Reports suggested the two had been released,  but this has yet to be confirmed and the pair remain missing.

Across the region, there are some signs of good news, however. In Jordan, the minority Christian population celebrate the feast day freely, even with legally enshrined rights enabling workers to enjoy time with their family. Inspite of this Jordan remains divided with little cross-religion love.

As ever with the tumultuous Middle East, there is much to be concerned about, but there always remains a little ray of sunshine on a spring Palm Sunday for the Christians across the region.

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