(Photo: Reuters / Andrew Winning)
Christians in Syria are reportedly supporting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was slapped with sanctions by the U.S. government on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama in an executive order authorized sanctions against al-Assad, six other senior Syrian officials, as well as two Iranian officials for their role in the violent government crackdown on civilian protesters. The two Iranian officials were sanctioned for providing material support to Syrian intelligence used against demonstrators.
The State Department gave al-Assad the ultimatum that he must lead a political transition or step down. Syrian and Iranian leaders named in the sanction will be blocked from accessing their properties in the United States, and U.S. citizens are barred from engaging with them in financial transactions.
Since the Syrian protests began in mid-March, as many as 850 people have died and thousands have been arrested, according to the United Nations last week. Like protesters in other parts of the Arab world, Syrians are demanding political and economic reforms and protesting against corruption, economic inequality, and totalitarian rule.
But the country’s Christian community, which makes up less than 10 percent of the population, is reportedly hoping that al-Assad will stay in power. Reuters reported that Syrian Christians fear that a political change will result in them losing their religious freedom; al-Assad ruled with an iron fist but religious minorities have been able practice their faith.
“Definitely the Christians in Syria support Bashar al-Assad. They hope that this storm will not spread,” said Yohana Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, to Reuters.
Christians told the news agency that although they support reform, they do not want a “regime change.” Christians fear that a political change could allow room for Islamist political groups to take power and take away what religious freedom minorities have under al-Assad’s secular rule.
Iraqi Christians have suffered immense persecution from Islamic extremists after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Since 2003, the Christian population in Iraq has been reduced to nearly half of what it was before the regime change.
And in Egypt, Coptic Christians are being killed and churches burned in sectarian violence after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted earlier this year.
“The change that came at the hand of the American army in Iraq did not protect the Christians and the change that came from the people in Egypt could not protect the Christians,” said a Syrian source, who was not identified for security reason, according to Reuters.
“Minorities are paying the price in these revolutions.”