There is little to be said in favor of the Assad regime, but like its fallen Arab nationalist counterparts in Egypt and Iraq, it is better for the Christians of Syria than an Islamic state would be. “Christians in Syria live in uneasy alliance with Assad, Alawites,” by Stephen Starr and S. Akminas for USA Today, May 11 (thanks to AINA):
DAMASCUS, Syria “” Hani Sarhan is a Christian who says none of his relatives works with the regime of Bashar Assad or has anything to do with it.
“But what we heard from (the protesters) at the beginning of this revolution saying, ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the coffin,’ started us thinking about the real aim of this revolution,” he said. “So from this point of view, fearing for my life, I declared my support for President Assad.”
Muslims dominate this nation of 22 million people, but Christians can be found at all levels of Syria’s government, business community and military. The 2 million Christians here trace their roots to ancient communities and have survived under many rulers as Christian enclaves in other Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, have withered.
The rebellion of hundreds of thousands of Muslims against Assad that began in March 2011 has not seen Christians abandon their support for the Alawites, the Muslim sect to which Assad belongs and that has controlled Syria for decades. Christians have largely remained quiet as Assad’s forces pummeled rebel cities and towns with artillery, killing close to 10,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Many of Syria’s Christians continue to stand by the regime not out of support for Assad but out of fear of civil war if rebels gain strength, or worse, if they win and install an Islamist government hostile to religious minorities.
Qatana, a town 20 miles southwest of Damascus, is home to a Christian community of several hundred families. Protests here against the Assad regime have prompted military incursions and clashes between renegade soldiers and the regular army. At checkpoints surrounding the town, some Christians chat to Alawite security officers. Others offer water and whiskey. Christians firmly believe that the Alawite regime will keep them safe.
With the town’s two churches located in Sunni Muslim neighborhoods, for months many families were too fearful to attend service, Christians here said. But a teacher at a Christian school said life is better now than before.
“The crisis is almost over,” she said, asking her name be withheld because she feared retribution. “Our church was full on Easter Sunday; last year, it was practically empty. We were allowed to parade around the town, when last year we could only go in the street outside the church.”
Yet Christian communities elsewhere have seen trouble.
A church in Homs, Um al-Zunnar, was badly damaged during the military’s month-long shelling of the city in February. Christians in Homs said the church was attacked by “foreign-backed armed gangs.” Syrian state TV aired interviews with civilians who said the rockets were fired from the mountains dividing Syria from Lebanon, where rebels have arms-smuggling routes….