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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora