Dire straitsThe plight of the Christian communities in the Middle East is a dire warning, that unless the written and unwritten policies and practices of intimidation, discrimination against the Christians and their exclusion from Political life is confronted and ended, the fate of these indigenous and ancient groups will be similar to the fate of the old Jewish communities who lived in the major cities of the region; immigration, exodus and /or expulsion. A similar fate befell the Greek, Italian and Armenian communities that made Egypt and the Levant their homes. This rich human mosaic was at the heart of the cosmopolitanism that made Alexandria and Beirut such vibrant cultural and economic centers, and Damascus and Baghdad modern Arab capitals celebrating religious and ethnic diversity and pluralism, but that was mostly before WWII, before formal Independence, the rise of xenophobic nationalism, the military coups and the first Arab-Israeli war.
The plight of the Christian communities in the Middle East is a dire warning Hisham MelhemI came of age in this cultural/social milieu in Beirut; I lived close to an Armenian neighborhood and managed to hold my own in conversations with elder Armenians who could not master Arabic. One of my closest boyhood friends was a Greek Cypriote. I was 12 years old, when I heard from two brothers tales of Kurdish sorrows in Iraq. We would watch not only the best and the trash of Hollywood and the Avant Guard European cinema, and even the depressingly sentimental movies of India. We also watched Egyptian slapstick comedy films, along with the works of Egypt’s best known director, the talented Youssef Chahine ( born in Alexandria to a Christian family, his father was of Lebanese descent and his mother of Greek origin, but he was decidedly Egyptian) . Lebanese Radio stations played blues and Rock and roll along with French, Greek and Turkish popular songs, and Egypt had more than its share of great divas and gifted musicians. In West Beirut, in one square mile area you could attend sophisticated productions of the works of Shakespeare, or Albert Camus and the works of many Arab Playwrights. Beirut was the publishing house of the Arab world, and the home of its exiled of the best and the brightest. That world is no more.