April 7th, 2012
10:18 AM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN)– 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.
According to CNN's Ben Wedeman, since the revolution that removed former President Hosni Mubarak from office, there have been more clashes between Egypt's Coptic Christians and Muslims.
"There is this idea that Christians are somehow not real Egyptians. There is this idea that these people are not really good citizens of the country," said Albert W. Hickman, a research associate at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. "I'd say the mood is watchful. People are looking to see what is going to happen next."
Hickman continued to say that it would not surprise him if anti-Christian groups in Egypt planned to target worshipers on Easter.
"I would imagine that Christians are not wanting to draw a huge amount of attention to a huge gathering in a park or square," Hickman said.
These concerns are highlighted in a yearly report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
"Over the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief," reads the report. "Violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians increased significantly during the reporting period. The transitional government has failed to protect religious minorities from violent attacks at a time when minority communities have been increasingly vulnerable."
According to the report, nearly 100 Coptic Christians were killed in 2011 because of more than 40 sectarian incidents. This number surpassed the death toll of the previous 10 years combined.
Voice of the Martyrs, a persecution ministry that operates a popular and powerful Facebook page in which American Christians post prayers for persecuted Christians around the world, has highlighted Easter persecution, as well.
"Holy days can be a time when Christians are targeted," reads one post by the organization. "Will you pray God's protection for Christians worshiping in restricted nations this Easter?"
In two hours, the comment was shared over 100 times and liked by almost 400 people.
CNN's Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this article.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.