Syria Christians Worry About Life After President Bashar Assad

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They fear civil war and revenge attacks if President Bashar Assad falls, an anxiety fed by the sectarian violence seen in Egypt and Iraq.


For 40 years, Um Michael has found comfort and serenity amid the soaring pillars and ancient icons of St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox cathedral.
But as a priest offered up a prayer for peace one recent Sunday, the 70-year-old widow dabbed tears from her eyes.
“I was wishing that life would go back to the way it used to be,” she said.
At night, Um Michael can hear the echoes of fighting near her home in Bab Touma, the centuries-old Christian quarter of Damascus. Like many Christians here, she wonders whether Syria’s increasingly bloody, nearly yearlong uprising could shatter the veneer of security provided by President Bashar Assad’s autocratic but secular government.
Assad has portrayed himself as the defender of the nation’s religious minorities, including Christians and his Alawite Muslim sect, against foreign-backed Islamic extremists. Opposition activists scoff at that notion, saying he has deliberately exploited sectarian fear to stay in power.
But warnings of a bloodbath if Assad leaves office resonate with Christians, who have seen their brethren driven away by sectarian violence since the overthrow of longtime strongmen in Iraq and in Egypt, and before that by a 15-year civil war in neighboring Lebanon.
Many here fear revenge attacks against minorities, who helped buttress four decades of repressive rule by the Assad family, and the emergence of what they describe as a new dictatorship by the Sunni Muslim majority.
“If the regime goes, you can forget about Christians in Syria,” said George, a 37-year-old dentist who, like others interviewed, asked to be identified by either a first name or nickname. “Look what happened to the Christians of Iraq. They had to flee everywhere, while most of the churches were attacked and bombed.”
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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times
Alexandra Zavis