In an interview with the Italian bishops' SIR news agency, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, called the Middle East a “scary volcano” because of the possible consequences of widespread unrest.
“There are Islamic forces and movements that wish to change the Middle East, creating Islamic States, caliphates, in which Shariah (law) rules,” he warned.
Radical groups present in Iraq such as al-Qaida and Ansar al Islam are calling on citizens in other Middle Eastern nations to inject an Islamic influence into otherwise general protests in places like Tunisia and Egypt.
For Archbishop Sako these calls have “the clear intention of fueling ... a total religious change” in the area.
“They are voices that could find fertile ground in Egypt and elsewhere and therefore should not be underestimated, also because there are regional powers whose leaders have defined these revolts as the 'reawakening of Islam',” he said.
In practice, the goal of these fundamentalists is “to create a void to be able to fill it with religious themes, convinced ... that Islam is the solution to everything.”
In Egypt, protesters insist that the widespread protests are not driven by religion or ethnicity, but rather a universal grievance against extremely poor social and political conditions.
Some fear, however, that organized Islamic associations such as the Muslim Brotherhood are in an optimal position to take advantage of the confusion for political benefit.
Because unrest could be manipulated by fundamentalist opportunists, Archbishop Sako called the Middle East “a scary volcano.”
Should Egypt becoming an Islamic state, he said, it would be “a problem for all” and have “undeniable, negative aftershocks for Christian minorities.”
According to the archbishop, Europe and North America are blind to the possibility of such an “Islamization” of the Middle East.
“The western mentality does not allow it to fully comprehend this risk,” he said.
He explained that politics and religion are interwoven in the Middle East, whereas there is “a tremendous void” between them in western nations.
This results in two extremisms, he said. The Middle Eastern mentality is dominated by Islam, while a secularism that denies its Christian roots and relegates Christian values to the private sphere reigns in the West.
Although “material violence” does not appear in the West, the general privatization of Christianity is “against democracy,” he said. “In the East, however, it is the opposite: religion pervades all.”
He called the future of the Middle East “unknown and scary” and said the international community is “incapable of moving” in reaction to the recent turn of events.
Iraqi Christians – plagued by violence and a lack of security – look to the Egyptian crisis with “sadness,” he told SIR news. They are afraid that the North African nation might fall into the same ethnic and religious division.
Archbishop Sako's own archdiocese has been struck hard by extremist violence. Nine Christians have died and another 104 have been injured in Kirkuk.
The fear the survivors have about Egypt, said the Church leader, is that it will become “a new Iraq.”