Study: Christian Population in the Mideast Is Dropping Rapidly

Studies show the remaining Christians in most - but not all - of the Middle East are in dire straits.

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Islamic State hoists flag onto church in Mosul Iraq, dismantling cross. March 7, 2015.Credit: AP

The dire fate of the Christian communities in the Middle East has become headline news lately. The murderous civil war in Syria; the rise of the Islamic State; the turmoil in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and in North Africa; as well as the anti-Christian Islamic regimes in places such as Iran, where the Christian population has almost vanished - as in Turkey; have led to a mass exodus of Christians in the best case, and enslavement and genocide in the worst.

Christians now face the worst religious persecution in over a thousand years in the Middle East, reports Christianity Today, based on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Last week the New York Times Magazine ran a major article detailing the plight of Christians in the Middle East, saying about a third of the 600,000 Syrian Christians have already fled, and only about a third of Iraq's 1.5 million Christians in 2003 remain today. The Times asks whether this is the end for the Christian community in the Middle East, and whether it has any future in the region of its birth.

 "Christianity is under an existential threat," Anna Eshoo, a Democrat member of the US House of Representatives from California, and an advocate of Mideast Christians, told the Times.

A recent report from the British Guardian newspaper pointed out that the persecution of Christians started not with ISIS, but 10 years ago after the US- and British-led invasion of Iraq. Prior to the invasion, "under Saddam Hussein's rule, Christians in fact enjoyed what they now recall as a golden age. They were free to worship and played a full role in society. However, the removal of the dictator let loose an ugly Shia-Sunni power struggle," The Guardian wrote.

Israel, and at least for now Lebanon, are the only countries left in the Middle East where Christians have freedom to practice their religion and are safe from persecution. But the Lebanese Christian population has shrunken from 78 percent to only 34 percent over the last century.

Santa Ana Armenian Orthodox in Christian village in Syria's Idlib. Febuary 21, 2013.Credit: AP

Interestingly enough, the Pew report from April says the strict Islamic nations of the Gulf states, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are seeing an influx of Christians. But these are almost totally migrant workers from Asia, who often have very few rights and are supposedly only living there temporarily - and do not have full rights of freedom of religion.

"While emigration out of the Middle East and North Africa is projected to lower the share of Christians in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria, the immigration of Christians into the GCC countries is expected to more than offset these departures for the region overall.

"Thus, migration is expected to slow the projected decline in the Christian share of the population in the Middle East-North Africa region. If migration were not factored into the 2050 projections, the estimated Christian share of the region’s population would drop below 3%. With migration factored in, however, the estimated Christian share is just above 3% (compared with nearly 4% as of 2010)," states the Pew report.

The report also forecasts that Muslims will outnumber Christians around the world sometime in the second half of this century.