The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced down together, a senior Roman Catholic official told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.
At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.
"Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world," said Naguib. "This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together."
Though freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution in most Middle Eastern countries, certain laws and practices limited its application in some countries, he said.
Noting that Christians usually felt the negative aspects of the social and political situations in the Middle East, he called for them to be treated in a just and equal manner rather than being "merely tolerated".
"Difficulties in the relations between Christians and Muslims generally arise when Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics," Naguib said.
"On this basis, Christians sense an uneasiness at being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they have called these countries 'home' long before Islam."
Over the course of the meeting, about 180 bishops, mainly from the Middle East, will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region's many Christian churches.
Conditions for Christians vary from country to country in the Middle East, but the overall trend is one of an exodus from the region. Christians made up around 20 percent of the region's population a century ago, but now account for about five percent and falling.