Arab Christians voiced hope and concern over U.S. President Donald
Trump's first foreign visit and his speech in Saudi Arabia to the Muslim
world, in which he urged a peace-focused Islam as a counter movement to
"I hope that President Trump will remind us that we have to think
about youth and the future of the Middle East and its countries,"
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told
Catholic News Service. He spoke on the sidelines of the World Economic
Forum meeting on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea May 19-21 as Trump
traveled to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Youth make up the majority of most Middle Eastern countries, and they
face a bleak socio-economic future, with youth unemployment hovering
around 30 percent. Mirkis cited it as one of the drivers laying the
groundwork for extremist violence — frustration over little
"Differences are a part of our culture. We cannot resolve the problem
of differences, but dealing with these differences in a meaningful way
can make our lives more peaceful, like here in Jordan," he said, also
pointing to the region's rich mosaic of ethnic and religious diversity.
Over the past three years, his parishes have aided some 500,000 Iraqi
Christian and other religious minorities fleeing persecution of
so-called Islamic State and sectarian violence that has engulfed Mosul
and the Ninevah Plain.
He said Iraq has been on the front line of the Islamist extremism and
terror that has become "very dangerous for the world." Yet he expressed
hope for reconciliation to prevail in his war-torn homeland.
"We are so happy to see so many people from different countries
here," he said. "They are together like brothers and sisters. We can and
want to do that in Syria and Iraq," Mirkis said.
A high-profile speech by Trump from the home of Islam's two holiest
sites urged Muslim unity with the U.S. to fight Islamist militants and
"If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing, then not
only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by
history, we will be judged by God," he said, addressing 55 leaders from
predominantly Muslim countries gathered in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or
different civilizations," Trump said in an about-face from his campaign
rhetoric. "This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to
obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion,
(and) people that want to protect life and want to protect their
religion. This is a battle between good and evil."
Trump said the U.S. is prepared to stand with those leaders in the
fight against extremists, but those countries must take the lead. He
urged them to drive extremists "out of your places of worship. Drive
them out of your community. Drive them out of your holy land."
He urged the leaders to "honestly confront the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds."
"It means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims,
the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of
Christians. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear —
barbarism will deliver you no glory. ... And political leaders must
speak out to affirm the same idea. Heroes don't kill innocents; they
save them," he added.
Trump's speech attempted to set the U.S. and himself on new footing
with the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide after he frequently criticized
Muslims on the campaign trail last year and tried to ban many from
entering the United States.
Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, welcomed
Trump's remarks, calling them "very, very frank," especially in light of
several recent bombings, beheadings and other attacks claimed by the
so-called Islamic State on Egyptian Christians and churches.
"It's not a normal political speech. The Muslim leaders had to hear
these words at last, especially when he said, 'You have to get the
terrorists out,'" the priest told Catholic News Service by phone from
"This struck me most because there were leaders sitting in the
meeting from countries that patronize terrorists or give them support,"
he said, underscoring the frustration and vulnerability many Egyptian
Christians feel in the wake of deadly terror attacks. However, Greiche
said he believes Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi
share similar views on confronting the menace.
In their speeches at the Arab Islamic American Summit, both Trump and
Saudi King Salman rebuked the Sunni Muslim kingdom's regional rival,
Shiite-majority Iran, as a terror backer. The U.S. president called on
the Muslim world to help isolate Iran.
But Arab Christian businessman Michael Morcos, commenting on Trump's
visit, saw a "marriage of convenience" between Washington and Riyadh
over their $110 billion arms deal, which preceded the speeches. Morcos
said the renewed partnership can endanger the overall peace in the
"Both sides need each other. Money talks, so the Saudis are about to
commit a significant amount of money to the U.S., so it will build some
bridges," Morcos told CNS. "But it will wind up in isolation of other
Muslim countries, including Iran, and that will fuel war in the region."
Saudi Arabia and Iran are already engaged in proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq to destructive effect.
"The Sunni and Shiite parts of the Arab world are separating, and the
gap is becoming wider. I think Trump's actions will widen the gap,"
Some analysts believe that by making lucrative arms deals with Saudi
Arabia, Washington will find it hard to pressure Riyadh to reform its
own brand of fundamentalist Islam, known as Wahhabism. In 2013, the
European Parliament published a report citing Wahhabism as a main cause
of global terrorism.
Meanwhile, the son of the late Israeli peacemaker Shimon Peres
expressed hope that Trump would be "committed to a (Mideast peace)
process that will move peace forward, realize and implement it by
working very closely with Israel and the Palestinians, so it will be
Chemi Peres, chairman of the Peres Center for Peace, spoke to CNS on
the sidelines of the World Economic Forum ahead of Trump's second stop
"There is a sense of urgency on both sides," Peres said. "Everybody
understands the parameters of the solution. What we need now is the
determination on all sides to reach a final agreement."