Published: 15:45 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 20 September 2011
Christians in danger as opponents of Syrian uprising
Country/Region: Syria, Middle East and North Africa
An influential Syrian sheikh has issued an implicit threat to the country’s Christians, saying that all those who oppose the revolution will be “torn apart, chopped up and fed to the dogs”.
Sheikh Adnan al Aroor, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, has become a key motivating figure of the Syrian uprising; through his speeches broadcast on the Islamic satellite channel al-Safa, which is widely watched in Syria, al Aroor often urges people to continue demonstrating until President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is brought down.
In one of his sermons, he explains that Syrians can be divided into three groups. The first comprises people who are for the revolution and against Assad. He said that when the president falls, the winners will look with favour on this group. The second group consists of people who are neither for nor against the revolution and can therefore expect no privileges from the new regime. The third group opposes the revolution and backs Assad. Al Aroor said that the meat of these people will be ''torn apart, chopped up and fed to the dogs''.
This threat is likely to be interpreted as applying to Syrian Christians because they are assumed to be supporting the government, having been well-treated and afforded a considerable amount of religious freedom under President Assad's regime.
Christians, who comprise around ten per cent of the population, have mostly stayed away from the protests despite pressure to join the uprising. They are fearful of what may replace the government as Islamists gain increasing influence over the demonstrations, which were originally concerned with political and economic change.
A number of Christians have been killed and, in some cities, such as Homs, they are afraid to leave their homes. A senior church leader in the area told Barnabas Aid that heavy gunfire had been preventing both church leaders and worshippers from coming to church. According to reports, some church buildings have been burned down, indicating growing anti-Christian hostility.
Al Aroor is seen as a moderate Sunni cleric who supports democratic reforms and stresses the importance of peaceful rebellion against the Assad regime. But his threat to opponents of the revolution may betray a more sinister and violent agenda.
Some fear that for Christians a post-Assad Syria could deteriorate like post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Saddam, like Assad, restrained the influence of militant Islamists, but after his fall they were free to wreak havoc on the Christian community; hundreds of thousands of Christians were consequently forced to flee the violence, many going to Syria.