For Human Rights and Civic Freedom: Movements for Democratic Change in the Arab World

This is a U.S. Christian response to the outpouring of hope that has challenged dictatorships in the Middle East, Africa, and several Asian countries. Along with hope, there has also been rage at injustice, sometimes misdirected, and desire for better material life. Each country has its own particularities, and our partners within these countries differ by age and institutional perspective, with younger Arab Christians often expressing more optimism. Overall this movement has changed assumptions about Arab and Muslim religion and politics, and called into question foreign policies that have too often enabled authoritarian leaders or accommodated oligarchies. The church’s traditional support for democracy and human rights is applied to this new context, with sensitivity to Christian-Muslim relations and advocacy for the rights of religious minorities—Christian in many cases. Military and political leaders have underestimated religious and ethnic dynamics, such as the assertion of Shia identity across many nations. One objective is to provide guidance to members and councils of the church that moves beyond the common image that Muslims-are-dangerous-and-undemocratic. Yet, we must acknowledge that public opinion of the U.S. in the Arab world is strongly negative3 and that some groups gaining power by democratic means may not be committed to religious freedom, equal rights for women, and other human rights.

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