Syria (ODM/MNN) — Thousands proclaimed a “Friday of Rage,” with mobs of Syrians taking to the streets against the government’s heavy-handed crackdown of a six-week uprising.
They were calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad even as tanks rolled through the streets to crush the anti-government resistance. In the meantime, the United States announced sanctions against Syria’s intelligence agency and two of the president’s relatives in response to his government’s crackdown on protests.
On the face of it, the picture appears to be a noble one of a rising voice for freedom being silenced by a dictator. However, there’s another scenario being whispered in the background that is far more sinister. Carl Moeller of Open Doors USA says, “There’s a strong indication that some of these rebels in the country are influenced by Iran and even perhaps Iranian backing on the extremist side.”
Their apprehension stems from what could happen if there’s success in the revolt and a vacuum of power. Moeller explains that “the Christians there that we’re working with are quite concerned that if there are extremists mobilizing in the rebellion and they overthrow Assad, without any clear replacement in place, there could be a period of time–perhaps even a permanent situation — where Iran or other extremist nations use their influence to make it very, very difficult for the Christians.”
Simply put, “Under Assad, there was relative stability—albeit limited freedoms, but relative stability in the country which allowed for protection for the Christian communities.”
Syria has a Christian population of approximately 1.5 million believers which is 8 to 9 percent of the total population of the country. They are members of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant denominations. While the church of Syria is not a hidden or secret church, the evangelical church often faces problems when it reaches out with the Gospel.
Open Doors reported that some churches in Syria canceled their Easter services because of the unstable political situation. Easter weekend was one of the bloodiest since the riots and anti-government demonstrations started in mid-March. The Associated Press reported 120 deaths last weekend across Syria and a total of 450 deaths since the unrest began.
“The current situation in Syria is very uncertain for Christians in the country,” says Rany, an Open Doors co-worker. “Look at the population of Syria, he states. “It is a mix of minorities of Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druzes, Kurds and others; that is potentially an explosive mix. I see a possible clashing of these minorities in which I think Christians will be possible victims of much violence.”
Ironically, it’s this situation that keeps believers mute at a time when people want to be heard. Rany explains that “because of the fear of a worsening situation, churches are silent in the midst of the anti-government protests. They are not involved in the protests against the president. They don’t want to attract attention to themselves.”
He goes on to say, “Right now we try to distribute literature and offer training to Christians. It is still possible to do this, but we don’t know for how long. Last year, Open Doors had training seminars about persecution and suffering for Syrian Christians. This training is meant as preparation for persecution.”
“Sadly, some of our courses, which were scheduled to start, had to be canceled for now. The church that would have hosted the course thought it was better to postpone it because they thought that some of the participants would not come because of the current situation.”
Moeller says, “What we can be praying for is, first of all, protection. People have been killed. When there’s violence in the streets like this, Christians are often caught in the crossfire. Secondly, [we can pray] that they would be able to have perhaps more freedom and at least the opportunity to continue to have a role to play in that country.”
The Syrian Body of Christ spent the end of last week in fasting and prayer for their country as the chaos rose to a fever pitch over the weekend. It’s an example others can be heartened by. “We can draw strength from the fact that they are standing strong in the middle of this storm that their encouragement to us is to be watchful in prayer for them and to know that they’re still sharing Jesus Christ, despite the hardships that they’re facing.”