Middle East: The Other Christmas Rush Is Christians Fleeing Arabia

Newsweek International, January 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Middle East: The Other Christmas Rush Is Christians Fleeing Arabia


Byline: Vivian Salama, Stefan Theil, Adam B. Kushner, Noelle Chun, Sarah Kliff

Christmas is usually a time to celebrate the arrival of Christians in the Holy Land. But this year, as Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Rite Catholic Church revealed during his Christmas sermon in Bethlehem, local leaders are currently concerned with the opposite phenomenon: exodus. Speaking to the legions of Arab Christians fleeing the region, Sabbah said, "I say to you what Jesus told us: do not be afraid."

But there's reason to be. Last year, dozens of Christians were slain in Iraq and a Syriac Orthodox priest was beheaded in Mosul. Two prominent Christian Palestinians were recently killed in Gaza. A political stalemate in Lebanon and the increased dominance of Shiite Hizbullah has made Maronites fear their traditional perks, like control of the presidency, are slipping. Even in Egypt, where religion has played little role in government, Christians now worry that the increasing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to new restrictions.

Thus many are voting with their feet. There are now just 12 million to 15 million Arabic-speaking Christians left in the Middle East, and this could drop to 6 million by 2025. Countries are being transformed: in 1956, Lebanese Christians made up 54 percent of the country; today they're about 30 percent. Iraq's Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to 600,000 today. And Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80 percent Christian when Israel won independence in 1948; now it's 16 percent. Fred Strickert of Wartburg College estimates that hundreds of thousands of Christian Arabs have been displaced in the recent years, including half a million from Iraq alone. Christian Arabs emigration isn't new. But according to Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine, the tide has increased since the second intifada in the Palestinian territories and the Iraq War. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute says most Christians chose to relocate to Europe and the Americas. Some 75 percent of the United States' 3.5 million Middle Easterners are Christian, as are large slices in Canada, France, and Brazil. Many new exiles hope to relocate to the United States: no small irony given that the instability they're fleeing was set in motion by the United States itself.

With the exodus, ancient practices and cultures are being lost, and Middle Eastern Christians risk eventually being "amalgamated into Western Christianity," says Christiansen. The result will be "a dilution of the diversity of Christian traditions." But given the life or death choices many Arab Christian emigrants now face, that looks like a small price to pay.

-- Vivian Salama

The Dollar: There's A Bottom --

One of the surest financial trends for 2008 is the continued weakness of the dollar. Or is it? A Bank of America report last week laid out the case for an end to the dollar's fall. The bank's head of currency strategy Robert Sinche says the dollar's "horrible undervaluation" of 13 percent against a basket of other major currencies closely matches prior lows in 1987 and 1995.

Sinche rejects the idea that the greenback will fall even further as central banks stop bankrolling American consumer spending by moving their reserve holdings into other currencies. While fresh numbers from the IMF last week showed the dollar's share of global reserves slipping, BOA calculates that the drop since 2000 has broadly followed the exchange rate, showing only marginal shifting of currencies.

Still, a U.S. downturn could force the Fed to cut rates, making the dollar even less attractive to investors. For now, that's where most analysts are putting their money.

-- Stefan Theil

Trade Secrets: A Bomb In The Game

Once again Americans are paranoid about losing civilian technology with possible military uses to the "Red Army." Only now the Reds in question are Chinese, not Soviet. …

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