Syria's Christians stand by Assad
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
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
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
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."