Christians in the Mideast

May 29, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 20
Is the decline reversible?
By Sara Toth Stub


The number of Christians in the Middle East has been falling for more than a century, due mainly to emigration and lower birth rates. But the decline has intensified since the early 2000s, as Christians and other religious minorities have faced increased persecution and violence due to wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the rise of extremist groups such as the Islamic State and instability following the Arab Spring democracy movements that began in 2011. Tension also has been rising between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which represent opposite sides of Islam's Sunni-Shiite divide and where religious restrictions remain among the most severe in the world. While some exiled Christians are trying to return to their old homes, experts are not optimistic that the outflow from the region will slow; nor do they expect the Middle East to become more hospitable to religious minorities. Experts say the plight of these minorities reflects a dangerous lack of pluralism and respect for human rights in many of the area's societies.

Catholic children prepare for a Christmas play in a Baghdad church (AFP/Getty Images/Henghameh Fahimi)
Catholic children prepare for a Christmas play in a Baghdad church in 2003, nine months after U.S. forces toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The American invasion triggered years of violence that led many Iraqi Christians to emigrate. (AFP/Getty Images/Henghameh Fahimi)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 28, 2022  Church and State
May 29, 2020  Christians in the Mideast
Sep. 28, 2018  Christianity in America
Jun. 23, 2017  Future of the Christian Right
Jun. 07, 2013  Future of the Catholic Church
Jan. 2011  Crisis in the Catholic Church
Sep. 21, 2007  Rise of Megachurches
Sep. 14, 2001  Evangelical Christians
Feb. 26, 1999  Future of the Papacy
Dec. 11, 1998  Searching for Jesus
Jul. 22, 1988  The Revival of Religion in America
Dec. 02, 1983  Christmas Customs and Origins
Jun. 10, 1983  Martin Luther After 500 Years
Aug. 08, 1975  Year of Religion
Jul. 26, 1972  Fundamentalist Revival
Jan. 04, 1967  Religion in Upheaval
Aug. 03, 1966  Religious Rivalries in South Viet Nam
Nov. 11, 1964  Church Tax Exemption
Aug. 05, 1964  Catholic Schools
Oct. 14, 1963  Churches and Social Action
Jun. 19, 1963  Vatican Policy in a Revolutionary World
Jan. 05, 1962  Rome and Christian Unity
Mar. 26, 1958  Church-Related Education
Dec. 18, 1957  Church Consolidation
Jun. 05, 1957  Evangelism in America
Jun. 23, 1955  Religious Boom
Aug. 13, 1952  Church Unity in America
Feb. 12, 1947  Relations with the Vatican
Dec. 21, 1923  The New Schism in the Church and the Immaculate Conception
Conflicts in Africa
General International Relations
Global Issues
Humanitarian Assistance
Iraq War
Middle East Conflicts
Regional Political Affairs: Africa
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia
Religion and Politics
Religious Movements