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."

 

Kerry seeks to allay Gulf states’ fears on Iran

Egypt Interior Minister replaced in cabinet reshuffle

Assad likens himself to Superman

Libya urges UN to lift arms embargo

Dubai launches first 3D pavement art festival

Jewish tradition could help struggling Gaza farmers

Saudi Arabia urges coalition to fight jihadists 'on ground'

Algeria criminalises violence against women

Sisi replaces interior minister in cabinet reshuffle

Executions set 'unprecedented' pace in Saudi Arabia

Libya declares more than 10 oil fields ‘non-operational’ after IS attacks

Syria exiled opposition chief seeks to unite dissidents

US warns against sectarianism in Tikrit offensive

Thousands of Filipinos remain in Libya despite perilous situation

South Sudan peace talks hit deadlock ahead of deadline

Turkey will not take part in Iraq offensive to retake Mosul

Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen freed

Mali rebel groups urged to sign peace deal

At least 34 dead in Syria rebel attack on intel HQ

Libya declares force majeure at 11 oil fields

Iran’s regional influence ‘not negiotiable’

Women protest for peace ahead of Israel election

Concerns rise over civilians’ safety in Iraq military operation

UN invites Libya leaders for crisis talks in Algeria

Israel to double water quota to Gaza ‘within days’

Abbas: Palestinians ready to talk with "whoever" wins Israel election

Fire at Cairo convention centre injures 19 people

US, Iran wrap up three days of intense nuclear negotiations

EU reviews policy in response to Ukraine, Arab Spring

IAEA delegation to hold talks in Tehran on March 9

Tunisia rescues 86 African migrants at sea

Saudi executing at 'unprecedented' pace

Turkish Airlines plane skids off Nepal runway

British former marine 'killed' in Syria

Iran slams boring Netanyahu's continuous lie-spreading in US speech

'Saudi prince' New York apartment on sale for $48.5m

Libyan militants take control of two oil fields

Washington lauds Iran's role in Iraq

Netanyahu warns Congress: Nuclear deal will free Iran to develop weapons

Bottle of juice vs. outspoken critic of Israel domestic policies

UN approves sanctions regime for South Sudan

Arab states to mull creation of joint force against ‘Islamic State’

Libya tit-for-tat airstrikes target airport, oil terminal

Iran holds memorial service for ‘Afghan volunteers’ killed in Syria

South Sudan general accused of abducting child soldiers