For Christians in countries thrown into tumult by the Arab Spring revolutions, Easter celebrations may prove dangerous.
According to experts and academics in the United States, the changing balances of power in each country, along with a history of anti-Christian sentiment, have made overt celebrations like Easter a cause for concern among Christians. This atmosphere, according to the same scholars, will likely alter the way the religious holiday is celebrated.
“In the past, they [Syrian Christians] have had great outpouring of piety in the public squares on Easter,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “This time, I suspect it is going to be vastly different. They are fearful.”
Though the geopolitical makeup of each Arab Spring country is different, Shea and other religious freedom scholars say that a pious holiday like Easter presents an opportunity for anti-Christian groups to seek out worshipers.
In a country like Syria, where the conflict is ongoing between government forces and rebels, Easter celebrations face risks outside of solely religious targeting. In countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, where the height of the conflict has passed, Easter celebrations now deal with the new power shifts in each country.
Religious holidays have long been a venue for terrorist attacks against all religious groups in the Middle East and North Africa. These holidays provide not only a meaningful day to make a statement but also see large concentrations of worshipers in one area.
According to Shea, who monitors religious media from Syria and Egypt, some Christians in the area are worried about targeted killings.
“In Syria, it is a time when Christian are packing their suitcases or thinking about packing their suitcase and definitely are going to be lying low this Easter season,” she said.
Though Coptic Christian’s in Egypt do not celebrate Easter until April 15, they find themselves in a particular state of uncertainty. Coptic Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians for nearly four decades, died last month of renal failure. He was 88.
Copts make up 9% of Egypt population, according to the U.S. State Department, but have been the target of a number of attacks in the past few months. In January, at least 21 people died at a church bombing in Alexandria and in October 2011, 25 people died and more than 272 people were injured during protests after a Coptic Church was burned in southern Egypt.