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Church Leaders Worry About Syria’s Christians

He explained that Syria’s small, minority–represented government, the Alawites who have been running the country for 40 years, are not going to let go easily because they know if the Sunnis take over, “it’s going to be very dangerous for them (Alawites), to put it very mildly.”

The bishop pointed to the slogans launched near the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March: “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin.” Those might be only slogans, he warned, “but they are significant.”

If change is not brought about peacefully, “there is a risk that it may go from an oppressive regime to a more brutal one, especially now that the atmosphere tends to be rather fundamentalist in the region,” Archbishop Sayah said. He also expressed concern about a potential civil war.

“Everyone knows what kind of disaster civil war is. Iraq is a very loud example,” he told CNS. “In Iraq the Christian minority paid a huge price. Two-thirds of Christians had to leave Iraq.”

“Since we know enough about the situation in Iraq,” said Patriarch Younan, “we fear that the kind of pressure put on requiring the fall of the government in Syria will have very bad consequences, even worse than in Iraq.”

The conflict in Syria is a “terrible dilemma” for the country’s Christians, said Habib Malik, professor of history at the Lebanese American University and author of the 2010 book “Islamism and the Future of the Christians of the Middle East.”

"Their values and beliefs can’t allow them to condone the brutality of the regime against people. On the other hand, they are genuinely scared of the alternative to the regime — the inevitable slippery slope toward Islamic extremism," said Malik, whose late father, Charles Malik, was one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Christians in Syria largely have not participated in the protests to overthrow the Syrian regime. Their silence, explained Malik, could be interpreted as overall support of the current regime. As a result, they could end up as a target of revenge attacks should the regime be overthrown.

“They are genuinely scared and feel in danger,” he said.

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Tags: Syria Arab Spring Syriac Christians