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Arab Spring Conference in Rome

Melkite Archbishop Cyrille S. Bustros of Beirut and Jbeil, Lebanon, speaks at a conference on the Arab Spring at the headquarters of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Rome 29 Feb. “Christians don’t want to be seen as a minority to be protected, but as full and equal citizens,” Archbishop Bustros told the conference. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)  

01 Mar 2012 – by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Muslims and Christians throughout North Africa and the Middle East recognize that “building a democracy is more difficult than destroying a dictatorship,” but they are committed to realizing their dream, said one of the leaders of change in Tunisia.

Rashid Ghannushi, known as the intellectual leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement, now the key party in the coalition governing Tunisia, was one of the speakers at a conference in Rome Feb. 29 on the Arab Spring movement.

The conference, sponsored by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based lay movement, brought together Christian and Muslim religious and political leaders from around the Mediterranean to discuss the pro- democracy movement and, especially, its impact on Christian-Muslim relations.

Conference participants were welcomed by Sant’Egidio’s founder, Andrea Riccardi, who now serves as Italy’s minister for international cooperation.

Ghannushi said many Westerners have had prejudices about the way Muslims see their faith and politics going together, as if Islam and democracy are diametrically opposed. He said Muslims want to be able to do what Riccardi has done: be a religious believer who lets his faith inform his political activity.

“The most important thing the Arab Spring has brought is a recovery of religious values and their correct place in political life,” Ghannushi said.

At the same time, “valuing differences is something new for us,” he said. Under the dictatorships, “order was maintained through repression,” so the new democracies must make concerted efforts to build social cohesion and involve all citizens in the life of the country.

Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Bustros of Beirut told the conference, “Christians don’t want to be seen as a minority to be protected, but as full and equal citizens. Unfortunately, we are still far from this. Christians and Muslims consider each other to be ’other.’

“We need to build a society in which members of different religions see each other as citizens and partners in building the country,” the archbishop said.

Many speakers also mentioned the ongoing bloodshed in Syria where uprisings began in March 2011 against the Bashar al-Assad. As the Sant’Egidio meeting was going on, news reports from Syria said the government was mounting a ground attack in Homs, a center of resistance.

A U.N. report Feb. 28 spoke of more than 7,500 dead in clashes during 11 months of protest against the Syrian president.

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Vatican Arab Spring