Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Embattled Syria reveals parallels to Iraq's remnants

File footage of Syria protest
 (Courtesy Associated Press)

Syria (ODM/MNN) ― At the beginning of 2011, the blossoming "Arab Spring" promised hope of new beginnings throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

As 2011 draws to a close, it's beginning to look more like a chilly "Arab Winter" for some. 

Christians have borne the brunt of regime changes in both Egypt and Syria. Unrest remains part of the landscape. While the people can agree they want to be free from oppressive regimes, no one can seem to agree on who will be in charge. Open Doors minister-at-large Paul Estabrooks notes, "Syria has a lot of parallelisms with Iraq."

Christians, in general, are afraid of what might happen to them in the future, especially if fanatic Muslims take over or obtain more freedom and seek revenge against believers. Estabrooks says, "One of the groups advocating for the fall of the Assad regime is a group of extremist Muslims who want to rule the country. If that became the situation, our brothers and sisters would be in dire need."

Some Christians have already reported violent acts against them as a sign of more threats and violence to come. There, too, Estabrooks confirms the reports. "Some of our reporters tell us that taxi drivers in some of the cities have made a vow to harm all women who take their taxi, [women] who are not totally veiled the way they think they should be."

"Christians inside Syria are caught in the crossfire as they are in many other Middle Eastern countries," says Open Doors President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "Until the protests started against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Christian community enjoyed some protection. Now they are afraid of the future. Will they have to flee their country like Iraqi Christians have done over the last several years? Please lift them up in your prayers."

Because of months of protests and violence against the government of al-Assad, Syria is on the brink of civil war. Thousands of protesters have been killed. Because of the continued crackdown on the protests, there is an international boycott in place. Inside Syria the central government is losing its grip on the situation.

Notes Estabrooks, "The word we're getting is that the situation is getting worse, especially for our brothers and sisters. There's a lot of criminal activity, where the military have withdrawn, and there's a lot of activity by fundamentalist Muslim groups." 

A field worker writes, "In the city of Homs, for example, the Sunni Muslims gained power on the streets when the government pulled out its troops for a few days. Some of the radical elements in this group have raided several churches. They robbed the churches of their most valuable things."

The hostile atmosphere in Syria is creating another dark parallel to Iraq. "There is a real worry in the minds and hearts of our brothers and sisters there, to the point where they, like the Iraqi Christians, are seriously considering emigrating, leaving the country."

Syria has more than 20 million inhabitants. About 1.5 million Syrians are Christians. It's a nightmare twice over for some because, Estabrooks says, many of the Christians in Syria sought refuge from the persecution in Iraq. 

As the situation deteriorates, Estabrooks urges believers: "Pray for the situation because we believe God is in control. He, fortunately, is the one who sees the end. He knows what's going to happen. We need to intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters."

Because of the chaos, the United Nations has voted in sanctions. According to an Open Doors worker, the impact throughout the country has been severe.

He reports, "Petrol is running out, or being preserved, or thrown out by opposing groups to create more of an issue within the country. You also see in the supermarkets that products are missing. Prices are rising because of the shortages.

People stand in lines for hours just to get a tank of gasoline for heat; sometimes they go away empty. With electricity getting cut for few hours a day, no gasoline and no petrol are available as before."

And yet, the Gospel is still going forward. There are some who are dedicated to sharing the hope of Christ in Syria. To those, Estabrooks says, "We provide Bibles, literature and training--especially leadership training."

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