News / Middle East

Syria's Religious Minorities Wary of Uprising

Arab League monitors meet with religious leaders in Damascus Jan. 17, 2012
Arab League monitors meet with religious leaders in Damascus Jan. 17, 2012

As pressures mount on the Syrian government, those at the center of power are working hard to keep whatever allies they have close at hand. Those so far seem to include many of the nation's religious minorities.

Syrian religious leaders put on a show of solidarity for Arab League peace mission monitors, highlighting the country's long history of tolerance among disparate beliefs.

At a meeting in the capital Tuesday, the Mufti of Damascus, Abdel Bari Atwan, said Muslims, Christians and all other sects are "united 'as one hand.'"  There is no bias, he added, since "we are all under the protection of the homeland."

The deputy of the Roman Catholic patriarchate, Bishop Louka el Khoury, agreed, saying the tolerance practiced in Syria takes a special place in the world.

When Muslims first came to Syria, el Khoury said Christians did not fight them, and the two have been living together as brothers every since.

Both men blamed the unrest on people not following the path of religion.

Arab League monitor Jafaar Kubaida, who noted the neutrality of the mission, said he has experienced first hand the divide religion can pose in his homeland, Sudan.

He added that Syria should thank God that it is not that way here.

But there are signs that a tradition of tolerance is under stress.  Opposition forces include religious minorities, but in sheer numbers are dominated by Sunnis, who make up three-quarters of the population.

Many Sunnis are rebelling not only against the heavy hand of the state, but also the 40-year rule of the Alawite Assad family and the prominent positions given to members of the minority Shia offshoot.

The Alawites have long counted on Syria's other minorities for support, including Christian groups and Druze, in turn guaranteeing them religious freedom and protection as well as high-profile government jobs.  

Support for the government can be heard on the streets of the Christian Bab Touma district of Old Damascus, and not necessarily because a government minder is present.

Outside the Mariamea church, Orthodox Catholic Bishop Tony Phillipos Yazji echoes the statements of other Christian leaders.  

Yazji says the church always supports peaceful demonstrations and reform.  But he condemns the violence as a destruction of the country carried out by paid agents.

Part of the support heard among some Christians and Druze may reflect not so much support of the government, but concern about what might replace the current regime.

They have seen the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt, and attacks on Coptic Christians in Cairo. There is also the specter of Iraq, where Christians fled persecution in the chaos following the U.S.-led invasion, many to Syria.

The government has played up the idea of its opponents as extremists.  But reprisal attacks on Alawites in cities like Homs and Hama have added to the real fears of all minorities.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid