Discussion on the plight of religious freedom in the middle east.

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 1:25 p.m. MDT

FILE - A Monday, May 9, 2011 file photo, Egyptian Coptic Christians chant angry slogans as they protest the recent attacks on Christians and churches, in front of the state television building in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's estimated 8 million Coptic Christians are feeling increasingly cornered amid the rise to power of hardline Islamists after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak's longtime authoritarian regime and fear that they will bear the brunt of blame for the film that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

Khalil Hamra, File, Associated Press

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The Catholic World Report sat down with the new chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert P. George on Wednesday. They discussed the situation of Middle East christianity and other religions in the crisis in Egypt and Syria, and what the United States and the world should do about the situation.

When faced with the two very different sceanrios in Egypt and Syria when it comes to protecting the religious minorities of the region, in particular christian sects, George believes that the world has far more options in Egypt – “Certainly in Egypt, I think we need to put pressure on the military government to protect the Coptic Christians, and to make the protection of the Coptic Christians a high priority.” – than we have in Syria, in which he is unclear a solution can be worked out effectively.

"There has been, as time has worn on, the movement into Syria of a variety of different forces, all of whom are lumped together in the minds of many Americans and other western commentators as 'rebel forces.' But those are not unified forces, and in a great many cases they are deeply hostile to each other. Obviously there are now Al Qaeda affiliated forces and other Islamist extremists operating in Syria against the Assad regime. We as westerners and believers in human rights would say 'a curse on both their houses.' But there was a time earlier on when, I think, when there was a chance that backing, giving some support—I’m not talking about invading—but giving some support to anti-Assad forces, anti-Baathist forces, before the Islamist extremists entered the picture in a big way, might have produced a regime change that would not have resulted in the replacement of Assad with an equally bad Islamist extremist regime. But even if I’m right that such an opportunity once existed, it is no longer there.”

George also talks about the persecution the christians and other minorities are experiencing in many Middle East countries by the previously oppressed majorities currently revolting. Christian's and other sects are often unfairly seen as having supported the dictators in the region, when in reality, George says, they were often simple pawns in the political games the dictators played. He says that the world should step in to protect the religious freedom of the religious minorities in the Middle East.

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and a writer for the Deseretnews.com Opinion section. Email Freeman at fstevenson@deseretdigital.com

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