A big thank you to everyone who responded to last month’s post asking you to email your MP to invite them to an parliamentary meeting on religious liberty in the Arab world co-hosted by Open Doors. Over 2,000 invites were emailed.
The meeting took place last Wednesday and I thought it would be good to share what happened. This is Open Door’s report:
Committee Room 8 in the Houses of Parliament was packed, standing room only, for our meeting on Religious Liberty in the Arab World.
There were several MPs present – one expressed his thanks for the Open Doors campaign encouraging MPs to attend, explaining that it was because two constituents had emailed him that he had made the effort to attend! In addition there were peers, representatives of other faiths, people from the Arab World – and Open Doors supporters!
The meeting was hosted by Naomi Long MP and Baroness Berridge:they both referred to their experience in relation to the issue of religious liberty, Naomi highlighting her visit to the Algerian Embassy with Open Doors staff, and Baroness Berridge her recent visit to Egypt.
A pastor from Egypt then highlighted the growing concerns of Christians as recent events had unfolded. There are real fears that the new President will oversee a rapidly-written new constitution that will turn Egypt into an Islamic state, with sharia made the basis of law and Islamists put in place as regional governors. He mentioned the particular vulnerability of those from a Muslim background who chose to follow Christ.
Colin Chapman, who lived and worked in the Middle East for many years, summarised the wider context for Religious Liberty in the Arab World. He emphasised that Christians were facing persecution partly because the Middle East has become a battleground in which nations are fighting wars by proxy – including the USA, the EU, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – and also because many had opted for the protection of close identification with authoritarian regimes. There was also a battle going on for the soul of Islam – and if the extremists won, there would be many Muslims as well as Christians who would face persecution.
Alistair Burt, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, picked up this point. Religious liberty is a high priority for the UK government; the best way of protecting Christians from persecution is to promote religious liberty for all, of all faiths and none. One MP challenged him on this point: Mr Burt emphasised that if the British government were seen to be only concerned with the plight of Christians it would reinforce the misconception that Christianity was a western religion and make Christians even more vulnerable to persecution. He explained that he consistently raises issues of religious liberty with his counterparts in the governments of the Arab World, but that he also had to be sensitive about how to exercise British influence: threatening to reduce aid and trade could well bring suffering to those who were not responsible for the failings of their governments.
Stephen Rand presented the Open Doors report on Religious Liberty in the Arab World, emphasising that Christians face persecution, discrimination and disadvantage in every country of the Arab World. The report also urged the government to protect Christians and other religious minorities already under threat and do everything possible to ensure that Christians are not forced to flee from their homes and become refugees and asylum seekers, but rather can remain safely, able to pursue their lives and livelihoods without fear.
There was a time of questions from various people present before Naomi Long ended the meeting by urging everyone to keep taking action on behalf of those facing persecution – she has initiated an Early Day Motion which reflects many of the recommendations made by Open Doors.
We have already received several expressions of thanks from those who were present at the meeting. Our thanks to all those who encouraged their MPs to attend, and all who prayed for the meeting.