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Syria's Christians stand by Assad

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57372175-503543/syrias-christians-stand-by-assad/ World Watch February 6, 2012 5:11 PM Syria s Christians stand by Assad
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      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57372175-503543/syrias-christians-stand-by-assad/

      World Watch
      February 6, 2012 5:11 PM

      Syria's Christians stand by Assad

      This story originally appeared on Global Post.

      DAMASCUS, Syria -- As the announcement was made Saturday evening that
      Russia and China had vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution
      condemning the actions of the Syrian regime, some Christians inside the
      country celebrated.

      One man from the western Syrian town of Qatana called his relatives to
      say "mabrook," or congratulations, on the result of the vote. A lounge
      bar in Damascus offered two alcoholic drinks for one in a happy hour offer.

      But in Christian homes around the country the prevailing sentiment is
      one of relief rather than delight -- they link the survival of the Assad
      regime to their own.

      "Thank god for Russia. Without Russia we are doomed," said a Christian
      woman from Damascus recently.

      As a fellow minority, Christians have long supported the Alawite regime
      in order to ensure protection and rights for themselves. The Alawite are
      a Shiite sect of Islam.

      "Look what has happened in Iraq and now in Egypt," said the woman.
      "Assad in power means that won't happen here."

      Thousands of Christians are tied up in the regime's security apparatus
      and are employed in high-ranking government and military positions.
      Aware that some day the masses might rise up against the regime, Syria's
      previous president, Hafez al-Assad, sought to consolidate power among
      the minorities, people he knew would unite when tested.

      Furthermore, ties between Syria's Christians and Alawites are not
      restricted to the spheres of politics and security.

      Both Alawites and Christians drink alcohol, regularly together. Alawites
      are seen by some Christians as being less Islamic in that many do not
      fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Many young Alawites frequent
      nightclubs and few wear the Islamic headscarf.

      "The problems in Syria are nearly over," said another Christian woman, a
      school teacher, brushing off the latest violence. Her comments on
      Saturday were a repeat of what she told a correspondent for GlobalPost
      last August.

      In the town of Qatana, 22 miles west of Damascus, the capital, a small
      Christian community is supportive of the army's current operation to
      surround the town. On Sunday, residents were not allowed to leave or
      enter the town following months of intermittent anti-regime protests there.

      "They [the army] will keep us safe from the gangs and the extremists. We
      need them here," said one resident reached by phone.

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      When an unexploded shell smashed through the wall of a convent in the
      Christian town of Saidnaya last week, many Christians felt vindicated in
      their support of the regime. Christians took to Facebook to show how
      they were being targeted because of their religion. No group has claimed
      responsibility for the attack, though fighting between elements of the
      Free Syrian Army and regular forces have been taking place in the nearby
      town of Rankous.

      "No one knows how the shell did not explode," said a Christian man with
      relatives in the town. "It was the work of god."

      The regime has repeatedly attempted to publicize its support for the
      country's minorities and to portray itself as fighting Islamic
      extremists. Priests regularly appear on state television praying with
      leading Sunni and Shia clerics.

      But on the ground, regime-backed gangs have reportedly been shooting
      into the air around Christian neighborhoods since the early days of the
      revolt many believe in order to drive them into the hands of the
      authorities.

      The manager of a boutique hotel in the Christian quarter of Damascus'
      historic Old City blames international television networks for the
      "crisis," and not the regime's violent crackdown.

      "Al Jazeera is causing all this trouble in Syria. They are telling lies.
      Look around you -- there are no problems here," she said.

      Others believe Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working to take control of
      Syria and are being pushed by the United States and Israel.

      Ahead of the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov's expected visit to
      Damascus this Tuesday, some Christians, however, think change may be coming.

      "I think Russia will put pressure on Assad," said an Orthodox Christian
      lawyer in Damascus.

      "I think they [the Russians] will tell him: 'Hold elections or we will
      stop supporting you.' It is not in Russia's interest to keep supporting
      the Syrian regime's crackdown. They're being criticized internationally
      and I don't think they'll stand for that much longer."
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