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."

 

US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance advances in IS-held Tabqa

US drone strike kills 5 Qaeda suspects in Yemen

Libya seizes two foreign oil tankers after gunbattle at sea

Turkish opposition down but not out

Europe’s 2017 elections affecting lives of Arabs, Muslims

Iran opens refinery to become petrol self-sufficient

Kuwaiti resigns from FIFA council to fight bribery claim

Waterway lifeline for civilians fleeing Tabqa

New Jordan-Syria spat revives simmering tensions

Trump’s U-turn on Syria checks Iranian ambitions

Hezbollah defiance on Israel border undermines Lebanon Army

Pope lifts spirits of Egypt's persecuted Christians

UN eyes new Western Sahara talks after Polisario pullback

Erdogan says Turkey, US can turn Raqa into 'graveyard'

Hamas to amend controversial charter

Turkish authorities block access to Wikipedia

Pope Francis leads mass in Egypt

President of European rights group censured for Assad meeting

Pope Francis flies to Egypt as 'pilgrim of peace'

Palestinians protest to support prisoners on hunger strike

Turkish army, Syrian Kurdish militia in new clashes

Erdogan to rejoin Turkey ruling party next week

Germany urges EU not to break off Turkey accession talks

OPCW says chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria

Netanyahu slams German foreign minster as 'insensitive'

UK warns of ‘increased level of terrorist activity’

Erdogan hopes for 'new page' with US under Trump

UN Security Council calls for Polisario pullback from Guerguerat

UN envoy to Libya to visit Sudan for peace talks

Tunisian PM booed out of town hall meet

Russian spy ship sinks off Turkish coast

London police arrest ‘terror act’ knifeman by parliament

Palestinians strike in support of protesting prisoners

Two Saudi soldiers killed in rocket attack near Yemen border

German soldier plots attack under refugee disguise

Iraq forces retake town of Hatra from IS

Syria accuses Israel of strike near Damascus airport

10 dead after strikes on rebel-held hospitals in Syria

Turkey’s AKP to hold special congress readmitting Erdogan

EU reviews Libya request for naval equipment

Jail terms over death of Moroccan fishmonger

UN appoints Syrian Olympic swimmer as ambassador

Bahraini activist on hunger strike behind bars

Calls on Saudi social media for jobless protest

Tunisian coastguards no match for high-speed smugglers