|"Greek Orthodox priests in Damascus pray during a Mass in January for a Christian boy who was killed in the fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs." (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images/January 9, 2012)|
By Alexandra Zavis
The Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2012
Although not all of Syria's Christians back Assad, their fear helps explain the significant support he still draws despite the ferocious crackdown on what began as mostly peaceful protests and his government's increasing international isolation. Worried Christians have only to look to the strife-torn city of Homs to see what a civil war might look like. There, residents say, Sunnis, Christians and the Alawite community, a small offshoot of Shiite Islam, have fallen victim to gruesome kidnappings and killings. The rise of Islamist parties in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia has added to the feeling among Syria's Christians that they are under siege. Some find affirmation of their fear in the demonstrations that take place every week after Muslims' Friday payers, when antigovernment protesters spill out of mosques nationwide, chanting religious and political slogans. 'Of course the "Arab Spring" is an Islamist movement,' George said angrily. 'It's full of extremists. They want to destroy our country, and they call it a "revolution."' Syria's Christians, who represent no more than 10% of the country's 22 million people, trace their origins two millenniums to the beginnings of the faith. The apostle Paul is said to have converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, from which he went on to spread the religion across the Roman Empire. Church leaders have largely aligned themselves behind the government, urging their followers to give Assad a chance to enact long-promised political reforms while also calling for an end to the violence, which has killed more than 7,500 people on both sides, according to United Nations estimates.[...]"