First Published: 2011-05-04

 

Syria's Christian against fall of Assad regime

 

Syrian church prayers for 'divine protection' for embattled President Assad following deadly unrest.

 

Middle East Online

By Rana Moussaoui - DAMASCUS

'Christians have a good life in Syria'

Father Elias Debii raises his hands to heaven and prays for divine protection for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing unprecedented protests against his regime.

His prayer at the Dormition of Our Lady Greek Catholic cathedral in Old Damascus rings loud in the ears of many members of his congregation, who oppose an end to the regime of Assad even if they long for more freedoms.

"We ask God to protect our president, our government and our people from all ordeals and crises," Debii said on a recent Sunday to 250 worshippers gathered in church.

Christians represent 7.5 percent of Syria's multi-confessional population of 20 million Arabs and Kurds.

Sunni Muslims are the majority in Syrian while the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and the community from which Assad hails, has privileged ties with the minority Christians.

Although Syria's Christians have no real political weight as a community, some of them are well established businessmen and others hold state jobs. There are three cabinet ministers among their number, and the chief of staff, Daud Raja, is a Christian.

Many Christians say they are staunchly opposed to the fall of Syria's autocratic, but secular, regime, but they look forward to more reform in the country.

"Nothing will happen to the regime, because even if the president is gone we will take to the streets. We feel safe with him around," said Carine Khoury, a boutique owner, who has a Christian father and a Muslim mother.

"Christians have a good life in Syria, namely the freedom to worship thanks to President Bashar al-Assad. We are not afraid, even now," says Samer Shamut, a 36-year-old civil servant.

Optician Imad Layyus, 53, says Syria's Christians "have no political ambitions."

"We don't want power, we just want to co-exist in peace with the Muslims."

Syria has been gripped by seven weeks of deadly security crackdowns on protesters who have been demonstrating across the country demanding major political and economic reform, as well as the fall of the regime.

The government has blamed "armed gangs" for the unrest, namely extremist Muslim Salafists who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam that seeks a return to practices that were common in the early days of the faith.

"Of course the Christians as well want more freedoms, on that we agree with the protesters, but we are mostly concerned about our safety," a businessman who declined to be named said.

He was pointing to Salafists and what some Syrian Christian call the "Iraqi nightmare" -- a reference to the wave of sectarian violence that followed the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

"Salafists frighten us. Look at Iraq: the Christians there lived in peace under Saddam, but now they have Al-Qaeda," said tour guide Michel Shaniss.

A wave of anti-Christian attacks after the US-led invasion forced a massive exodus of the community from Iraq.

Demonstrators in Syria had called for "Good Friday" protests across the country on April 22 -- two days before Easter -- as an apparent rebuttal to regime propaganda that has tried to portray the protesters as fanatics.

They urged Christians to join the nationwide protests, insisting in a slogan on the need to bolster "national unity."

 

Qatar-Turkey relations continue to build upon strong alliance

Turkey, Syria Kurds reach agreement to stop fighting

UN aid going to Assad-linked companies

Italy rescues some 6,500 migrants off Libya

Rising water pollution puts millions of lives at risk

Sweden jails Syrian refugee for setting fire to hostel

Turkey arrests editor from top daily in post-coup crackdown

Qaeda-linked group claims deadly ambush in Western Tunisia

France criticizes Turkey’s intervention in Syria

Turkey risks getting bogged down in Syria's war

Shabaab suicide car bomb targets Somalia hotel

US drone strike kills Qaeda suspect in Yemen

Libya says last chemical weapons stocks shipped out

World Vision calls for transparent trial in 'Hamas aid' case

Iran to cover infertility treatments

Top UN official calls for response to South Sudan refugee crisis

Obama to meet Erdogan on Syria over weekend

Libyan forces corner IS fighters in last Sirte holdouts

Tunisia's new unity government takes office

3 Saudi children killed in Yemen cross-border shelling

18 killed in suicide attack in Iraq oasis town

60 killed in suicide bomb attack on Yemen army camp

Turkey's bombings kill civilians in northern Syria

Iran arrests 'nuclear spy'

Egypt frees renowned rights lawyer, Malek Adly

In Saudi city of Najran, Huthis commit war crimes with indiscriminate rockets

Libya forces launch ‘final battle for Sirte’

Dozens killed as Turkey ramps up unprecedented offensive in Syria

Iraq officially asks Saudi Arabia to change ambassador

Yemen government cautiously welcomes US peace plan

Yemen shelling kills three-year-old boy in Saudi border region

Turkey sends more tanks into Syria to bolster military offensive

Turkey arrests former top diplomats over failed coup

Tunisia swears in new premier after approval from parliament

Israeli troops shoot dead Palestinian in occupied West Bank

11 Turkish police officers killed in Cizre bomb attack claimed by PKK

French court suspends burkini ban

Tears as evacuation starts in Syria's Daraya

Turkey PM denies Syria operation singling out Kurds

Kerry, Lavrov meet for talks on Syria

Tunisia parliament to vote on cabinet proposal

Kuwait arrests govt employee promoting IS online

Turkey shells Kurdish fighters in Syria after warning

Oil prices fall on Saudi doubt on output cut

Jeddah meeting bears no fruit on Yemen conflict