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Studying the Middle Eastern Minorities: Real Challenges

Like the rest of the world, the Middle East is a heterogeneous region and comprises numerous ethnic, national, religious and linguistic societies, groups and sects.[1] Globalization and the large-scale movement of population, especially since the oil boom of the early 1970s, have transformed the demographic profile of some of the oil-rich countries. Indeed, a number of problems facing the countries of the region revolve around the treatment or mistreatment of the minority population. Most of the post-Ottoman states of the Middle East have not evolved a national identity that would recognize and reflect their multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition.  

At the same time, discussions concerning the minorities have been controversial and politically problematic. States, by their very nature, are sensitive towards any outside criticisms over the treatment of their minority population and consider it to be a sovereign and inviolable subject. At the same time, they do not hesitate to exploit the treatment of the minorities by their adversaries as a useful foreign policy instrument.[2] Countries have often used the plight of Muslims in India, Tibetans in China or Christians in Indonesia to further their narrow political agenda. The Middle East is no exception to this prevailing trend. Discussions on the treatment of minorities such as Egyptian Copts, Israeli Arabs, Turkish Kurds and Iranian Baha’is have been highly politicized.  

It is undeniable that significant gaps exist between the official position vis-à-vis minorities and the perception of the latter concerning their status. Whenever a society is threatened by an external enemy or an internal crisis over the national identity, the minorities — the distinct other — become the prime and immediate target. Even liberal democratic societies in the West are not immune to xenophobic tendencies against the minorities. The rise and popularity of various right-wing parties in Europe and Australia are directly linked to a common grudge against the minorities, often ethnic and religious. The Middle East is not an exception to this trend, but studying its minorities has to overcome a number of hurdles. What then are the problems of studying the minorities of the Middle East?

Problem of definition

There are no universally accepted criteria, let alone definition, that could comprehend the minorities of the Middle East. The traditional Islamic framework for minorities revolves around the classical division of population as Muslims and non-Muslims. This, more or less, corresponds to the two sets of societies namely, Dar al-Islam (House of Peace) and Dar al-harb (House of War). The non-Muslims are further divided into Dhimmi and Kafir. People who have revealed sacred scriptures such Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians come under the category of ahk al-kitab (People of the Books) or Dhimmis, who are offered limited protection and guarantee under the Islamic rule.[3] This limited protection, as manifested in the Islamic Republic of Iran, is not available to any other religious groups that are not recognized by Islam. This two-tier categorization determined, governed and shaped the lives of the non-Muslims in the ever-expanding Islamic empire in the Middle East and elsewhere.  

This traditional framework, however, suffers from a number of inherent problems. The excessive and even exclusive focus on the Dhimmi proved to be detrimental to the understanding of other smaller groups living under the Islamic rule. The Islamic framework is insufficient to explain a number of heterodox sects that has branched out of the religion. Above all, the concept of Dhimmi does not recognize, let alone discuss, the minority consciousness among the ethnic groups. How does one explain the problems of the Kurds within the traditional Dhimmi framework? Will the Shias of Saudi Arabia be a minority under this framework? Hence, the two-tier approach towards the non-Muslims is neither adequate nor sufficient to understand and explain the increasingly complex Middle East.[4]

Modern definitions are no better either. Writing at the end of the World War II, renowned sociologist Albert Hourani defined the minorities in the Arab world as those communities that differ from the Sunni Arab majority in their religious affiliations and/or in their ethno-cultural identities.[5] He used this broad definition to identify the minority population in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Mandate Palestine, the then Transjordan and Syria.  

If one applies Hourani’s model, then we can identify the following groups:

  •        Ethnically Arab but not Sunni Muslims: Various Christian denominations, including Copts, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Maronites, Latins and Protestants; Islamic sects such as Shias, Alawis, Druze and Baha’is
  •          Non-Arab Sunni Muslims: Kurds, Circassians and Turkomans
  •          Non-Sunni Muslim and Non-Arab groups: Jews, Armenians, Assyrians, Christian tribes and animists in southern Sudan

While addressing more groups than the Islamic framework, Hourani’s model does not explain peculiar situations in the Middle East. Demographically, the Shias in Bahrain, Sunnis in Syria, Shias in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, and, to a lesser extent, Palestinians in Jordan are a majority but they suffer the fate of minorities. How does one explain the marginalized minorities or political minorities within the Sunni-Arab-majority model of Hourani? Moreover, following the establishment of the Jewish State, the Sunni Arabs were reduced to a minority within Israel.  

While religious minorities (especially Jews, Christians and Baha’is) and ethnic minorities (Kurds) have received some attention, the others have largely been marginalized due to the absence of a consensus on the definition of minorities. 

Denial of existence

The most severe and immediate problem facing the minorities is the denial of their very existence. This functions at two levels. At the theological level, denial pertains to the discriminatory part. There is a powerful trend among contemporary Islamic scholars to defend and depict the glorious and benevolent treatment of minorities living under the Islamic rule. The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, published in London, is the principle English language forum that propagates such a politically correct version of the past. In their assertion, the Dhimmi was and continues to be the ideal framework. One commentator observes, ‘If Muslim residents in non-Muslim countries receive the same treatment as Dhimmi in the Islamic regime, they would be more than satisfied; they would be grateful.’[6] Presenting an unblemished picture, it is often argued that under Islam ‘there was no inequality(?)’; Islam ‘treated all people as equal’; ‘Muslims and non-Muslims lived together as equals’; or Islam ‘secured complete equality for the non-Muslims.’[7] 

Likewise it is not uncommon to find lofty claims such as ‘All humans have the right to live in the Islamic state, and with the Muslims they enjoy equality, justice and liberties that crystallize the reality of human brotherhood.’[8] Writing in 1949, Sayyed Qutb, who had significant influence upon Islamic revivalism in the modern era, forcefully argued: ‘Islam grants non-Muslims complete political and religious freedom and protection to practice their religious duties.’[9] Above all, whenever the issue of minorities comes, Islamic scholars often tend to focus on the teachings of Prophet Mohammed and Quran towards the minorities, but rarely discuss the practices of Islamic rulers. Noble theology rather than harsher realities becomes their refuge.  

When seen from the other end, the picture appears less rosy. In a number of Arab countries, especially in the Gulf region, citizenship is co-terminus with the Islamic religious identity. Moreover, it is essential to distinguish between Islamic ‘tolerance’ from ‘equality’. Religious tolerance, personal protection and conditional communal security were given to the Dhimmi in return for their allegiance to the Islamic rule. This was different from equality. Bernard Lewis aptly summed up the fundamental dilemma facing Islam towards the minorities:

… it is only very recently that some defenders of Islam began to asset that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesman for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who wilfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.[10]

In other words, if the believer and the Dhimmi were equals, where is the need to separate them politically and socially?  

The denial strategy also operates at the national-political level. Troubles over the treatment of minorities compel a number of countries to adopt an official policy of denial. Despite the evidence to the contrary or because of it, they seek to dismiss the problem by pretending that minorities do not exist. The denial strategy is not confined to official circles, but is percolating to the societal level.  

The Turkish constitution, which, ad nauseam, talks of the Turkish nation, is a classic example. Unless one looks at the demographic situation, one would believe that there are no non-Turks in the country. One of the fundamental challenges facing Turkey has been its inability or refusal to recognize the Kurds as a distinct people who are ethnically different from the majority Turks. The May 1971 statement of a Turkish official epitomizes the problem: ‘We accept no other nation as living in Turkey, only the Turks. As we see it, there is only one nation in Turkey: the Turkish nation. All citizens living in different parts of the country are content to be the Turkish.’[11] The constitution bans the imparting of education in any language other than Turkish.[12]  

The Coptic issue remains a religious-cultural question in Egypt and any discussion of the Copts within the minority discourse evokes strong resentment and disapproval. The efforts of the renowned sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim to highlight the plight of the Copts got him into trouble with the state as well as with the intellectuals. If the Egyptian authorities prevented him from holding a conference on minorities in Cairo, veteran journalist Muhammed Heikal refused to accept the Copts as a distinct minority but considered them merely as ‘part of Egypt’s unbreakable fabric.’[13] This denial strategy is more visible vis-à-vis the Baha'is whose distinct religious identity has been denied not only by the Egyptian state but also by its judiciary.[14] 

For long, the State of Israel also adopted such an attitude towards the Palestinians. As the Palestinians managed to secure international recognition and acceptance, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (1969-74) dismissed their claims and maintained that there was no such thing as ‘Palestinian people.’[15] Indeed it is impossible to find major meetings of the Likud party without the presence of Druze leaders with their traditional headgear. But this symbolism does not reflect their inclusion in the policy program of the right-wing party. Similarly, the refusal of the Arab and Islamic countries to recognize Jews only as a religious, not national, group emanates from their inability to come to terms with the existence of the Jewish State.

Lack of territorial identity

The emergence of the modern Middle East from the ruins of Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century had worked against the minorities. State formation reflected the then prevailing imperial interests, and the emergence of a new political entity, at times, was accompanied by a leadership brought from outside. Not only were the territorial boundaries of most of the post-Ottoman states artificial, but they also undermined societal homogeneity. Different ethnic and national groups were clubbed together or groups of ethnically homogenous people were dispersed to different states; both situations worked against the minorities and made them extremely vulnerable. Kurds found themselves living under four new political entities (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey), while the same situation was faced by the Druze (Israel, Lebanon and Syria) and the nomadic Bedouins (Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia).  

The newly emerged demographically heterogeneous states had to evolve a national identity based on territorial boundaries created by imperialism. This resulted in the new entities opting for a top-down approach to national identity formation. This was inevitable as a number of newly carved out entities not only lacked ethnic/national cohesion but some of them even lacked essential attributes of a nation.  The parcelling of the erstwhile ummah (Muslim community) to different states raised questions not only over the legitimacy of the new political entities but also their viability.  

The demographically heterogeneous states were forced to evolve new national identities based on territorial boundaries created by imperialism. Territorial loyalty was supposed to replace the erstwhile loyalties to religious and ethnic identities. Driven by this need, the newly established political entities sought to forge national identities that would be unifying. Some even aspired for supranational identities such as Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism. Thus, national identity revolved around the ruling elite or family.   

As a result, disregarding their respective demographic situation, the countries of the Middle East settled for artificial national identities, often revolving around the majority population or ruling family. The drive for artificial homogeneity means that other identities were viewed as divisive, threatening, counter-productive, externally sponsored or unpatriotic. Internal demographic differences came to be viewed as a divisive factor and a ‘potential challenge’ to the unity of the country.[16] Thus, despite the Kurds constituting about one-fifth of its population, the Turkish ‘nation’ defined the national identity of modern Turkey. Same holds true for Israel. Its depiction as the national home of the Jewish people prevents the Arab minority from identifying themselves with the core Israeli identity and its explicitly Jewish symbols such as the flag and national anthem. The formation of a non-religious and territorial identity would be a pre-condition for Jewish-Arab equality and peace in Israel.  

Thus, unlike other citizens, the minorities of the Middle East are marginalized not only as individuals but also as communities.

The number game

There are no reliable and periodic population data concerning the Middle Eastern minorities. Either the figures are not available or they are highly contested. Without reasonably accurate figures, it is not possible to understand the composition of the minorities and evaluate their political status, social distribution and economic powers.  

For example, in Lebanon, one of the most heterogeneous states in the Middle East, the Christian community views the population census as a political move to dilute its power and pre-eminent position. When the first and last population census of Lebanon was held in 1932, the Christians accounted for about 53 per cent of the population and the Muslims and Druze made up the remaining 47 per cent. This demographic situation formed the basis for the 1943 power-sharing arrangement evolved at the time of Lebanese independence.[17] Over the years, however, the demography has shifted in favour of the Muslims, but the Maronite Christians are not prepared to relinquish their stronghold over the state and, hence, have vehemently opposed any new census. Even the Taif Agreement of 1989, which brought an end to the prolonged civil war, stipulated equal Christian-Muslim representation in the national assembly.[18] This parity contrasts the demographic situation whereby the Muslims constitute more than 60 per cent of the Lebanese population.  

The situation of other minorities was even worse. There is a huge difference between the official figures and estimates by the concerned minorities. This discrepancy highlights the discord that exists between the establishment and the minority population. The situation of the Shias in Saudi Arabia highlights this point. They predominantly inhabit in the oil-rich Eastern province and this adds political sensitivity to the question. Seen as a security and ideological threat, the regime is extremely sensitive about any discussions concerning the Shias. This apprehension explains the conflicting estimates concerning the Shias. While the conservative estimates put the figure at 275,000, there are others who suggest that as much as 25 per cent of the Saudi population is Shia.[19] Quoting official estimates, a September 2005 study by the International Crisis Group puts the Shia population at two million or ‘between 10-15 percent.’[20]  

The same trend is visible with regard to the Copts in Egypt. While the official estimates put the Copts at about 3.3 million or 5.6 per cent of the total Egyptian population, the Coptic estimates suggest a much higher figure of 11 million or 18 per cent of the total population.[21] Similar discrepancy can be noticed for the Kurdish population with estimates varying from seven to 17 million.[22] Their dispersal in a number of contiguous states only complicates the picture further. 

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan faces a different set of problems. Concerns over domestic stability inhibit Jordan from discussing the accurate estimates of its citizens of Palestinian origin. Many widely believe that the Jordanian Palestinians or West Bankers constitute the majority in Jordan. In December 2001, the Jordanian population was estimated at 5,182,000 and around the same time the Palestinian Authority put the number of Palestinians in Jordan at 2,560,000.[23] Taken together this means that Jordanian-Palestinians constitute a simple majority in the Hashemite Kingdom. This poses a political challenge to Jordan because for long a powerful section within Israel had argued that Jordan is the Palestinian state without a Palestinian head of state.[24] According to this school of thought, the Palestinian would have secured statehood if Yasser Arafat was installed as the ruler of Jordan. Therefore, the Hashemite Kingdom views any suggestion of a Palestinian majority as a concerted effort to undermine and delegitimize the Jordanian state and its stability. 

The problems faced by the Gulf States are different. The presence of substantial, often overwhelming, expatriate population poses unique problems for the Gulf states. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, Indians account for about 30 per cent of the total resident population.[25] In most of the Gulf sheikhdoms, overseas workers far outnumber the citizens. Hence, in many countries, population figures are not easily available.

External interference

Historically, the Middle East has an unenviable record of external interference on behalf of the minority population, especially the Dhimmis. The most resented and exploitative Capitulatory System primarily began as a concerted effort by the imperial powers to keep their citizens and subjects outside the purview of the Ottoman legal system. In 1535, the French succeeded in gaining exemption for its Christian subjects who were living in the Ottoman Empire from paying jizya or poll tax. This privilege was gradually extended to the citizens and subjects of other European powers and gradually to all non-Muslim subjects employed by the European powers. The removal of the Dhimmi status in Egypt in 1923, likewise, was preceded by the Egyptian recognition of the British ‘right’ to protect Egyptian minorities.[26] 

Undoubtedly, such an active interference of the imperial powers immensely benefitted not only the Dhimmis but also other minorities in the Middle East. This also resulted in the removal of social restrictions that accompanied the protected Dhimmi status. Indeed, the protection and patronage offered by the non-Muslim European powers significantly contributed to the social progress as well as emerging political aspiration of some of the Middle Eastern minorities. The European linkage was critical for the realization of the Jewish national aspirations in Palestine. The autonomous Mount Lebanon and the subsequent formation of the Maronite-dominated Lebanese state were the result of the linkages forged between a European power and a Dhimmi subject of the Ottoman Empire.  Correspondingly, the absence of such a linkage largely contributed to the non-realization of the Kurdish national aspirations.  

At the same time, the external linkages or interferences that benefitted the Dhimmis also played a pivotal role in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the eventual disappearance of the office of the Caliph. Thus, a number of post-Ottoman states began to view any linkage between the Middle Eastern minorities and the outside world, especially with the non-Arab peoples, societies and powers, with great distrust, suspicion and even hatred. What was seen as a political asset and leverage for the minorities during the Ottoman era, now became a potential threat to the newly born states of the Middle East. 

Any outside attempt, especially by European powers, to champion the cause of the minority groups, is strongly resented by the Middle Eastern states as well as societies. The continued European political, economic and military interventions in the regional as well as internal developments of a number of post-Ottoman states have exasperated the situation. As a result, while improving the status of some of the Christian communities, the European intervention has also made them vulnerable and ‘the object of Muslim hostility.’[27] Such apprehensions often border on paranoia or xenophobia. There are concerns in the Middle East that some of the Christian priests who come and work in the region misuse their privileges and some even fear that ‘many priests and missionaries who have come to the Third World from the West have spied for Western governments.’[28] Indeed, most of the countries of the region have explicitly banned missionary activities by the Church.   

With the result, outside powers, especially the Europeans have been extremely wary of discussing the plight of the minorities in the Middle East. States often make the minority issues subservient to the larger national interest calculations. Of late the Vatican is openly speaking on behalf of the ‘vanishing Christians’ of the Middle East.[29]

Security concerns

The external linkages of the minorities often proved to be detrimental to the interests of the majority community.  Emboldened by outside support, some groups have acquired autonomous or secessionist tendencies, which, in turn, inhibit any meaningful discussion concerning the minorities. Demands for special privileges and protection articulated and accomplished during the Era of Capitulation, spurred a feeling of autonomy from the central Islamic authority in Istanbul. This has been more prevalent among certain Christian sects. Along with the mainstream ‘Christian subordination in the Middle East,’ observed Walid Phares, ‘lies a minority tradition of Christian enclaves.’[30] He had identified five such aspirations: the Maronites in Lebanon; Assyrians of the Fertile Crescent’s highland; Nubians of the Nile Valley (Egypt); Copts of Egypt; and Syriacs of northern Syria. The Maronites proved to be the most successful when they managed to earn a larger Lebanese state that was carved out of Syria. The others were less successful.[31] 

These trends in turn generate concerns for the state, thereby, hampering any meaningful discussion on the minorities. Indeed, a host of restrictions and discriminations vis-à-vis the minorities are often presented and justified through the security prism. Israel is a classic example of this security-oriented approach towards the minorities. Mainstream discussions concerning the Israeli Arabs are often accompanied by a caveat of them posing a security threat to Israel being a Jewish national home. Suspicions towards the Arab population and a policy of Jewish exclusivity prevented Israel from evolving an integrated national identity. The Arab demands for equality and non-discrimination are often seen as an attempt to nullify Israel being a Jewish national home. As a result, critical national debates such as territorial concessions vis-à-vis neighbouring Arab states are often accompanied by a demand for restrictions upon, if not exclusion of, its Arab citizens.[32] In recent years, the Palestinian statehood has generated new debates concerning Palestinian irredentism and its implications for Israel as well as Jordan.[33]  

This security-oriented approach towards the minorities is not unique to the Jewish state. Traditional as well as contemporary restrictions on the Dhimmi are often justified within the ambit of the security concerns. Islamic states, some argue, provide religious freedom and freedom of worship to Dhimmi so long as the latter does ‘not abuse such privileges and threaten the security and integrity of the state.’’[34] Another Islamic scholar went a step further and argued: an ‘individual’s freedom of worship and thought should be controlled by society’s beliefs and practices.’[35]  

In recent years, both Iran and Egypt have used the security argument to justify their mistreatment of the Baha'is.[36] Both have used the location of the international headquarters of the Baha'is on Mount Carmel near Haifa (Israel) to argue that the Baha'is pose a security risk. It is convenient for them to forget that the Bahaullah, the founder of Baha’i faith, was buried in Acre near Mount Carmel in 1892, long before the formation of the State of Israel. Thus, a broad security canvas enables a number of Middle Eastern countries to prevent any meaningful discussions concerning the minorities.

Arab-Israeli conflict

The prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict could distort and even poison any meaningful debates on the Middle Eastern minorities. Driven by strong national interest calculations, Israel sought to identify, patronize and even exploit internal divisions within various non-Jewish communities in the Middle East. At the domestic level, this policy resulted in Israel identifying and nurturing various non-Sunni minority communities, some of which have branched out of Islam. Hence, while ‘Arabs’ are the largest minority group in Israel, there are other minorities such as Christian Arabs, Druze, Circassians, Bedouins and Baha'is. Such a policy of ‘dividing’ the Arabs has came under severe criticism and is seen as a calculated attempt to undermine the position and influence of the Arabs both inside and outside Israel.[37] 

Moreover, since the pre-state days, Israel looked to the non-Muslim Maronites as its potential ally in the Middle East. A powerful commentary in Middle East Quarterly aptly summed up the Israeli approach towards the Middle Eastern minorities:

Itself a Jewish enclave in a predominantly Muslim region, Israel at first encouraged the idea of a mosaic of mini-states that would undermine the Arab hegemony over non-Arabs. Well before the establishment of the state, Jewish Agency representatives contacted Maronites, Kurds and other minority groups in the Levant. During the first Sudan civil war, Israeli assistance was evident among the southern guerrilla forces. In northern Iraq, Israeli intelligence agents supported the Kurds. But it was in Lebanon that the Jewish State played the card of a Christian enclave to its fullest…

Indeed, Phares went on to suggest that following the June war of 1967, ‘a group of radical Coptic activists offered to help establish a Coptic state in the occupied Sinai Peninsula.’[38] Thus, the willingness of some of the minority groups to seek political support from Israel not only worked against their interests but also made them suspicious vis-à-vis the Arab governments and the majority population.  

At the same time, the Arab-Israeli conflict provides a convenient excuse and fig leaf of defence for the countries of the region and their leaders to prevent any discussion concerning the minorities. The Baha'is are Israeli agents because the headquarters of the Baha’i faith is located in Haifa. Until the late 1970s, Saudi Arabia prevented the Israeli Muslims from performing hajj because of its political problems with the State of Israel.[39] Despite the formal peace with Israel, Coptic Christians could not undertake a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem because of the edict issued by the Coptic Pope Shenouda III. Indeed, the interests of Arab countries to speak on behalf of the Israeli Arabs and their welfare is complimented by their conspicuous silence vis-à-vis their own minorities. Thus, while not directly relevant, the Arab-Israeli conflict does indeed impede any meaningful debate concerning Middle Eastern minorities.  


None of the Middle Eastern countries are homogenous, and all of them are home to a number of ethnic, religious or national minorities. Most of the minorities have been residing long before states were formed in the region. In their desire to evolve new national identities based on arbitrarily drawn territorial boundaries, most of the states tended to ignore, belittle or undermine the existence of ethnic, national and religious minorities. Prolonged external intervention on behalf of the Dhimmis and the resultant dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire considerably hardened the region against the minorities. A number of countries tended to deny the existence of the minorities or pretend that they are not discriminated against.  

In reality, however, no state is homogenous. Rather than perceiving the issue as a conspiracy against national unity and integrity, the states of the Middle East could view the minorities as an integral part of the Middle Eastern mosaic and try and evolve a new national identity that would accept, recognize and incorporate various ethnic, national, religious and linguistic minorities who inhabit within the respective boundaries.


Note: This is an updated and revised version of the paper originally published in Alternative: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol.2, no.2, Summer 2003.


Professor P R Kumaraswamy teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is the Honorary Director of MEI@ND.

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy



[1] The term Middle East is used in a wider context and includes all the countries and entities ranging from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east. Hence, it includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Areas, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

[2] The US State Department annual publication Religious Freedom Report highlights this basic dichotomy. While presenting a detailed survey of international tolerance or intolerance towards religious minorities and groups all over the world, the report is silent on the practices in the US. If the same yardsticks were applied, the US would find itself in an unenviable position. For example, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US, the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities came under severe criticisms.

[3] For a discussion on the Dhimmi see C L Cahen, ‘Dhimmi’ in Bernard Lewis, et al (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: E J Brill, 1965)(Second edition)Vol. 2, pp. 227-230.

[4] For a discussion on the Dhimmi and its relevance to the current situation in the Middle East see, P R Kumaraswamy, ‘Islam and minorities: Need for a liberal framework’, Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3,  Summer 2007, pp. 94-109.

[5] Albert H Hourani, Minorities in the Arab World, London, Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 1.

[6] Muhammad Hamidullah, ‘Relations of Muslims with non-Muslims’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 7. No. 1, January 1986, p. 9.

[7] Huseyin Gazi Yurdaydin, ‘Non-Muslims in Muslim societies: The historical views’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 3, 1981, pp. 183-188.

[8] Sayed Khatab, ‘Citizenship rights of non-Muslims in the Islamic state of Hakimiyya espoused by Sayyed Qutb’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2002, p. 163. Emphasis added. 

[9] Quoted in ibid. 167. Emphasis added.

[10] Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1987, 4. Emphasis added. 

[11] Quoted in Edwar Chaszar, ‘International protection of minorities in the Middle East: A status report’, Middle East Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring 1986, p. 41.

[12] Article 42 (9) of the 1982 Constitution explicitly states: “No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education. Foreign languages to be taught in institutions of training and education and the rules to be followed by schools conducting training and education in a foreign language shall be determined by law. The provisions of international treaties are reserved.”

[13] For a detailed discussion on the controversy see, Ami Ayalon, ‘Egypt’s Coptic Pandora’s box’, in Ofra Bengio and Gabriel Ben-Dor, (ed.), Minorities and the State in the Arab World, Boulder, CO, Lynne Reinner, 1999, pp. 63-67. See also, Karim al-Gawhary, ‘Copts in the “Egyptian fabric”’, Middle East Report, Vol. 26, No. 3, July-September 1996, p. 21.

[15] P R Kumaraswamy, ‘Problems of Studying Minorities in the Middle East’, Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol.2, No. 2, Summer 2003, pp. 244-264.

[16] Philippe Fargue, ‘Demographic Islamization: Non-Muslims in Muslim countries’, SAIS Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, Summer- Fall 2001, p. 109.

[17] For an interesting assessment on the early phase of the implementation of this confessional arrangement see, Ralph E Crow, ‘Religious sectarianism in the Lebanese political system’, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 24, No. 3, August 1962, pp. 489-520.

[18] For the full text click here

[19] Madawi al-Rasheed, ‘The Shias of Saudi Arabia: A minority in search of cultural authenticity’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, May 1998, p. 132. See also, The Economist, 17 June 2002.

[20] The Shiite question in Saudi Arabia: Middle East Report, Brussels, International Crisis Group, 19 September 2005, p. 1. 

[21] Ayalon, No. 11, p. 53; Fargues, No. 15. See also, The Economist, 11 March 2001, p. 51; David Zeidan, ‘The Copts: Equal, protected or persecuted? The impact of Islamization on Muslim-Christian relations in modern Egypt’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1999, pp.53-54; and J D Pennington, ‘The Copts in modern Egypt’, Middle East Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, April 1982, pp. 158-159. 

[22] Chaszar, No. 11, p. 40

[23] Statistical Abstracts of Palestine, 2001, Ramallah, Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, 2001, p. 35.

[24] Raphael Israeli, ‘Is Jordan Palestine?’, in Efraim Karsh and P R Kumaraswamy, (eds.) Israel, the Hashemites and the Palestinians: The Fateful Triangle, London, Frank Cass, 2003, pp. 49-66.

[25] Report of the Higher Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, nd., p. 33, accessed on 19 May 2007

[26] Saad Eddin Ibrahim, et al., The Copts of Egypt, London: Minority Rights Group International, 1996, p. 12.

[27] Zeidan, No. 20, p. 55.

[28] Fazlur Rahman, ‘Non-Muslim minorities in an Islamic state’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 1986, p. 13.

[29]For example, see  The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, (Vatican, 2009), accessed on 7 October 2010.                             

[30] Walid Phares, ‘Are Christian enclaves the solution?’, Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 8, o. 1, Winter 2001, p. 61.

[31] Ibid, p. 63. Phares also refers to ‘the Assyro-Chaldean polity within the Kurdish autonomous zone’ as an example for a successful Christian secession. This was a post-Kuwait war accomplishment and its future remains uncertain.

[32] P R Kumaraswamy, ‘’Special majority”’ for Golan: Democratic dilemma of the Rabin-Peres governments (1992-96), Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring 1999, pp. 30-56.

[33] For a discussion see, Hillel Frisch, “Ethnicity, territorial integrity and regional order: Palestinian identity in Jordan and Israel”, Journal of Peace Research, vol.34, no.3, August 1997, pp.257-69.

[34] Ahamad Yousif, ‘Islam, minorities and religious freedom: A challenge to modern theory of pluralism’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2000, p. 34.

[35] AbdulHamid A AbuSulayman, Crisis in the Muslim Mind, (Herndon, VR: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1994), second edition, p. 90.

[36] US Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report, - Iran, Egypt 2009.

[37] For example see, Lisa Hajjar, ‘Israel’s interventions among the Druze’, Middle East Report, Vol. 36, No. 3, July-September 1996, p. 2.

[38] Phares, No. 29, pp. 63 and 67.

[39] This was resolved when the Kingdom of Jordan offered to provide temporary travel documents to the Israeli Arabs.