Rescuing and serving persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

ICC Note: The conflict in Syria has Christians fearing for the future. For some the prospect of radical Islamic extremists taking control has caused them to overlook the abuses they have suffered at the hands of Bashar al-Assad. While political reasons led him to seek tacit support from the 10% Christian population, to portray him as a defender of Christians or promoter of their rights would be misguided.
By Alana Goodman
9/17/2013 Syria (Washington Free Beacon) – The relationship between Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his country’s Christian minority is far more complex than the portrait drawn by Assad allies and opponents of a U.S. military intervention, according to Christians from the region and Middle East experts.
Assad’s supporters often describe the Alawite leader as a protector and ally of Christians. Opponents of a U.S. strike have now picked up the argument, pointing to brutal attacks on Christians by rebel-allied jihadist groups as evidence that the West would be better off keeping Assad in power.
But Assad’s critics say the anti-Christian violence by extremist opposition factions does not mean that Assad should be exonerated as a friend to Christians.
“The idea that somehow [Assad] was a protector of Christians is just absurd,” said Tony Badran, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who was born and raised in Lebanon. “He’s a protector of himself and his regime. Anyone who gets in the way will be eliminated.”
While Christians in Syria largely support Assad, there are Christians among the opposition, most notably George Sabra, who served as president of Syria’s chief opposition group until July. Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a prominent critic of Assad, was forcibly exiled in 2012, and activist Basil Shehadi was supporting the opposition when a regime sniper reportedly killed him.
Ahed al-Hendi, a Christian Syrian opposition activist who moved to the United States in 2007, objected to the notion that Assad has been good to religious minorities.
“[Assad] wants the Christians to protect him,” said Hendi. “He’s not protecting the Christians.”
Hendi said he has concerns about the possibility of a post-Assad takeover by Islamists but argued the West can help prevent this by providing more support to the moderate opposition.
“Of course I support the strike against Assad, and of course I’m concerned at the same time,” he said. “Anybody who has a little bit of brains would be concerned about what happens next.”
Syria’s secular Ba’ath regime depends on a coalition of minorities, including Christians who make up roughly 10 percent of the population. Many backed Assad after the country’s civil war broke out in 2011 in exchange for having been allowed to practice their religion.
But there are still some legal restrictions. The constitution passed in 2012 bars non-Muslims from becoming president. It is illegal to be a Jehovah’s Witness, which the government contends is too similar to Judaism. There are also laws against proselytizing, an obstacle for certain Christian sects.
They are also subject to the same general persecution as the rest of the population, including arbitrary imprisonment, forced exile, and restrictions on political activity, Middle East experts note.
“Under [Assad’s] command, it’s not like [Christians] have privileges,” said Badran. “They were basically allowed to exist as apolitical creatures. You can do your rituals, you can do whatever you need to do. But they’re not in a position of power or anything like that.”

[Full Story]