Arab Spring Conference
The conference was held in a partnership between Christians Aware, St.
John’s Church in Waterloo and the Awareness Foundation in September 2013.
When the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011 it was welcomed as the dawn of a new democracy in the Middle East.
The old dictatorships fell in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia. There was a lot of Western interest and the TV screens of the
UK were filled with scenes from the protests. The demonstrations were mostly seen in the West as modern, middle class
In Egypt the Tahrir Square demonstrations led to the fall of Husni Mubarak and the democratic election of Muhammed
Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. President Morsi lasted for only one year before being overthrown by the Egyptian
army following large demonstrations against him. The Coptic Christians have been particularly vulnerable and many
churches have been destroyed.
Syria has dominated the news for most of 2013, with constant fighting and hatred between the government and the
various groups of rebels, and in the summer of 2013 the chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus which have led to a
United Nations investigation. More than 100,000 people have died and there are more than 200,000 refugees. The
conflict goes on, with recent intervention by President Putin of Russia and the beginning of tentative plans for peace
There are growing fears of a Sunni/Shia divide right across the Middle East. The Syrian Alawite regime receives support
from Iran, Iraq and from Hezbollah. The various groups of rebels receive support from Saudi Arabia.
Our evening conference was chaired by Garth Hewitt of the Amos Trust, who began by reminding everyone that Bishop
Suhail of Jerusalem often talks of Martin Luther-King, who said that only light can drive out darkness, only peaceful
work can end the violence and hatred.
The first speaker was Nadim Nasser of the Awareness Foundation. He was brought up in Syria and is the only Syrian
Anglican priest. He is a member of an all - party parliamentary group on international religious freedom and an adviser to
the Foreign Office. His talk was very sad, as he spoke of the tragedy of Syria, which is trapped in bloodshed and
violence and where there is evil on all sides. People leave the country when they can. Nadeem said that the only way
forward is for talks to take place. He pointed out that ‘the table of negotiation is for enemies.’
Anjum Anwar is a Muslim woman working in Blackburn Cathedral for development and dialogue. She was born in
Karachi and has lived in the UK for 40 years. She works in universities and colleges and in local communities to increase
interfaith understanding. She asks many questions about why the situation in Syria and in the Middle East generally
has been allowed to develop in such a violent and destructive way. She suggests that it will only be when people of
faith stick together and really listen to each other that positive talks will be possible. Respect of people of faith for each
other, and the recognition that there are good people in all communities, is at the heart of a peaceful way forward.
Bishop Angaelos is the head of the Coptic Orthodox community in the UK. He was brought up in Australia and returned
to Egypt, the place of his birth, in 1990, where he entered a monastery. He came to the UK in 1995 where he specialised in
work with young people. He works in many interfaith bodies and visits Egypt regularly. In his talk he was very clear that
President Morsi had polarised the people of Egypt, who had traditionally lived and worked together. President Morsi
had favoured his own brotherhood members and made no attempt at social cohesion. During his year in office the
country has deteriorated in almost every way. Now that he has gone it is possible for moderate Muslims, Secularists and
Christians to work together. The miracle is that this has been made possible. A secular state which will be fair to every
religious grouping is worth working for.
Ali Ibrahim, the last speaker, also called for the separation of religion and politics. He is the deputy editor in chief of
‘Asharq Al-Awsat’ and an Egyptian based in London. He is a leading commentator on Middle Eastern affairs.
The hope of all the speakers and of all participants at the conference, is for peace talks to be set up for Syria, and for a
dignified future of all the communities of the Middle East.
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