03/19/2012, 00.00
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From Amman, a "Charter" for the rights and protection of Christians in Arab countries

by Joseph Mahmoud
In Jordan, two days of meetings and discussions to shape the future of Christians in the Middle East. The event was attended by religious and secular scholars, Christian and Muslim from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Iran and Jordan itself. The goal: to preserve the Christian presence.

Amman (AsiaNews) - Under the patronage of the Jordanian Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (Riifs), in collaboration with the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo and the Mennonite Central Committee, Christian and Muslim, bishops and scholars have discussed the situation of Christians in the Middle East, in light of "current changes" and the upheavals caused by the Arab Spring. Starting from the question "Christianity in the East: where to now?" on March 12 and 13 in Amman - Jordan's capital - lay and religious from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Iran and Jordan have outlined points of common interest and divergence to safeguard the presence of the religious minority in the Arab Muslim-majority nations.

Professor Kamel Abu Jaber, Director of Riifs, opened the roundtable discussions emphasizing the importance of the current "context" in the Middle East. Afterwards, His Eminence Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Aleppo, on behalf of the Syrian-Orthodox Church focused attention on the "crucial problem", the exodus of Christians from countries in the region for fear of conflict, violence and persecution. He also added that the religious minority are denied rights of "citizenship and equality" in some Arab nations.

In the past two days the meeting was also addressed by Jordanian Prince Hassan bin Talal, who explained that "the Christians are in every respect Arabs, and are the pioneers of Arab thought and revival." He also added that "they are authentic and genuine" citizens "of their countries." For this, he concludes, "cooperation between Christians and Muslims" should be increased for the good of our nations.

And it is the "active" Christian participation in and contribution to the growth of Arab nations the key repeatedly stressed by the speakers. Plus the need for greater collaboration between the two sides, together with enhanced visibility in the media, in order to strengthen the "awareness of the importance of the Christian presence in Arab societies."

At the end of the meetings, the attendees drafted a final document of guidelines for future work. Among these, the birth of a "committee" that will help achieve the objectives including - among others - Professor Kamel Abu Jaber, Jordan, the Syrian Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the Muslim scholar Ali Muhafza Jordanian and Archbishop of Kirkuk, Archbishop Louis Sako.

Finally, the Islamic-Christian leaders called for the effective implementation of the document (see AsiaNews 16/01/2012, Al-Azhar in defense of democracy and religious freedom) outlined by the Egyptian Al-Azhar University, based on principles of freedom, respect for human rights, equality between citizens, without discrimination of race or creed. Desire was expressed for a meeting - under the leadership of Al-Azhar - designed to consolidate and strengthen cooperation in the future. In this sense, Prince Ibn Talal of Jordan called for an " Arab Social Charter" regulating freedom and rights, by implementing the principles of social justice, human dignity and equality between citizens of one State.

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