BEIRUT, Lebanon – Christians are beginning to leave Syria in increasing numbers as the civil war intensifies and Syrian opposition forces seek the removal of embattled Shi’a Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who until now has protected Christians and other minorities from the threats from Sunni Muslims, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Many of the Christian refugees are venturing down into the Baqa’a Valley, which is predominantly controlled by Shi’ites, particularly the Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese resistance group that the United States, Israel and Canada have designated as a terrorist organization.
Former Gen. Michel Aoun, a Lebanese Christian who leads the faith community there, has an alliance with Hezbollah, ostensibly to protect what’s left of the Christians today in a country where they at one time formed a majority of the population.
Lebanese Armenian Christians similarly have allied with Hezbollah to seek protection from the Sunnis which comprise portion of the population.
Today, Christians comprise perhaps some 25 percent of Lebanon’s population, and it is dwindling. Shi’ites make up 45 percent while Sunnis comprise 30 percent.
However, safety is the primary concern for these Christians who are settling in the area of Zahle, which is at the crossroads of the highway that leads to Damascus and further into the Baqa’a Valley.
The entire Baqa’a Valley is regarded as a Shi’ite stronghold, with visible signs of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah pictured alongside Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini up and down the main roads heading north.
Based on personal observation, the Shi’ites are heavily armed, a situation which has kept an uneasy peace in the region and has prevented until now any fighting spillover from northern Lebanon around the city of Tripoli, which is mainly Sunni.
Indeed, Sunni opposition forces are known to be occupying the far northern part of Lebanon, which recently prompted Syrian government shelling into Lebanon.
As a result, the Christian stronghold of Zahle and its surroundings in the middle of the Baqa’a have become a safe haven for the fleeing Syrian Christians as well as Syrians who support the al-Assad regime but are fleeing for safety reasons.
In the Beqa’a, there are developing little tent communities of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence in the north. They are arriving with virtually the clothes on their backs, and little else. Plus, it is becoming increasingly cold in the area, with temperatures already dipping to below freezing at night.
The growing concern is that should the al-Assad regime be toppled and the Sunni Syrian opposition takes over power, there not only will be a massive Christian exodus but also an exodus of other minorities such as Alawites, Kurds and Druze, who also comprise the Syrian population.
The plight of Christians in Syria and in Lebanon is a microcosm of the larger issue of Christians in the Middle East.
A hundred years ago, for example, Christians comprised some 20 percent of the total population in the Middle East. Today, that figure is closer to five percent. This reflects a dramatic change in the Middle East which is the cradle of the Christian faith.
Christians seem to have taken the brunt of unrest that is wafting across the Middle East, not the least of which is in Egypt, which recently was taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The more radical Egyptian Sunni Salafists recently have been burning down Coptic churches and attacking its members.
The Copts, the native Christians of Egypt, for example, are the largest Christian group. Between 500 A.D. and 700 A.D., Christianity was the majority religion there, making it the majority in the pre-Muslim period.
Today in Egypt, the Copts comprise some 10 percent of the population, with the overwhelming majority of the country being Muslim. With an Islamist government now in power, Christians there are increasingly concerned about their survival.
The Egyptian Copts are watching closely what the country’s new constitution will do for them.
“We hope that in future, there’s equality for all Egyptians,” said new Coptic Pope Tawadros. “But in the past Christians have not shared completely in social and political life. The constitution has to be under the umbrella of citizenship, not the umbrella of religion.”
However, that constitution, now the subject of an ongoing national referendum, was written predominantly by Muslims, a development which has also upset other secular members of the population, including liberals.
Nevertheless, the draft constitution declares that “individual freedom is a natural right” and that all citizens are equal. It further guarantees the “freedom of belief and freedom of practicing religious rights,” “freedom of expression,” freedom of the press and assembly, universal suffrage and the right to form civil societies.
It further establishes a party plurality as the foundation of the new Egyptian political system and the creation of different political parties, with the caveat that the parties not be based on any sectarian basis such as religion, race or sex.
Despite these constitutional guarantees, however, the Copts and other minorities aren’t so sure.
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