What will become of Syria?
A syrian priest reports back on the situation in the country.
Attempting to explain the current political, social and economic situation in Syria is far from easy. It is impossible to travel freely around the country and there are no news outlets – national or international – capable of reporting objectively and impartially on the reality and the day-to-day existence for Syrians. This means that understanding what is really going on and being able to impart clear and accurate information is next to impossible.
The unrest began in Spring 2011. Following the initial wave of protests, the country gradually descended into fierce fighting. The current crisis is overarching and pervasive: not only is it a political crisis, because the country is under absolute single-party rule, but it is also a social and economic crisis because there is a vast and ever-increasing gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority. Despite appearing deceptively stable and, at least on the surface, prosperous, Syria lacks the vital infrastructure needed for a modern and secure state. The result is that Syria is in the midst of a real crisis which has turned the country upside down. Fear, worry, uncertainty and suffering are now daily features of life for all Syrians. Nobody ever imagined or wanted Syria to end up where it is now or to see its people placed in such a tragic situation.
People can no longer talk of any peaceful place in Syria untouched by violence and atrocities. Such a place no longer exists.
It is said that over 100,000 people have died so far in Syria, including nearly 15,000 children (there are no official figures). Tragically, these figures seem all too probable. What is more, if the current levels of brutality continue, I believe this figure could double or even triple by the end of the year. That is without even including all those who have disappeared (prisoners, kidnap victims, etc.).
An estimated 3.5 million people have had to flee their homes, many of them unable to take away any possessions bar the clothes on their backs, in order to escape the indiscriminate violence. These displaced people are in need of absolutely everything. Some of them have had to move several times because they had initially fled to a peaceful area which was then swept up in a new wave of violence, forcing them to flee again. On top of that, even those who have not been forced to leave their homes have felt the effects of the crisis, especially high unemployment, which means that many Syrians are living below the poverty line. It is estimated that 2.5 million people are in need of emergency aid.
Close to 1.5 million people have left the country for good and have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Northern Iraq and Turkey, and even further afield in countries such as Egypt and Algeria.
Crime has spiralled out of control (kidnapping for ransom, theft, burglaries, etc.), which means that - even in supposedly peaceful areas - people are very restricted in the extent to which they are able to travel around.
The rise of religious extremism and fundamentalism
There is no doubt that radical groups inspired by al-Qaeda are operating in Syria and trying to impose their viewpoint and agenda within the Syrian opposition. According to a number of members of the Free Syrian Army, these fundamentalist groups have more financial resources than other factions, making it easier for them to recruit soldiers. The question on the lips of all Syrians (and one which is also worrying international observers and experts) is this: who now is really in charge on the ground? There is no simple answer, because the truth is that Syria’s streets are ruled by warlords, with each faction having its own leader. If the extremists gain more ground within the opposition, what will then become of Syria?
There is one final worry, and I am speaking here as a Christian: the uncertainty and fear felt by the Christian community. Every Syrian is anxious and nobody can claim to have a monopoly on suffering. However, owing to the rise of radical Islamism and the fact that memories of the recent violence and intolerance of extremist groups is still fresh in the minds of many (such as the fate of Iraq’s Christians), Syrian Christians are even more anxious than their Muslim fellow countrymen. It should be said that Christians are not being specifically targeted. Where Christians have been attacked (such as in the small town of Al-Qusayr, close to Homs), this has been as a result of their political stance, not their religious affiliation. That being said, we must not play down the fears and concerns of the Christian community in Syria. We need to listen to them, particularly given that there is currently no real leadership and that the Church is founded on the Gospel principles of human dignity and justice. Eastern Christians as a whole, but particularly those in Syria, occupy a weak position in society, making them likely to be harder hit by such crises than other groups.
In spite of the difficult situation in Syria and the brutality that has taken place there, we can still see that the Church and Syrian Christians are playing a vital role in Syrian society, not only by carrying out social and humanitarian work but also by acting as a bridge between different communities. Their presence has become increasingly important because of their efforts to bring people together. Consequently, they truly are the catalysts in today’s Syrian society.
A Syrian priest
Translated from the original text in French