It is true that the Christians of the Middle East are a persecuted minority—like all regional minorities, from the Shiites to the Druze and from the Kurds to the Jews. And the Christians are already suffering at the hands of Sunni extremists in Iraq and Egypt. But still, it is impossible to feel much sympathy for the recent statements of Lebanon’s newly appointed Maronite patriarch, Beshara al-Rahi. “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be given a chance because he is implementing reforms in Syria,” said Rahi.
In an interview with Al Arabiya on Thursday, Rahi explained his reasoning: “If the regime changes in Syria, and the Sunnis take over, they will form an alliance with the Sunnis in Lebanon, which will worsen the situation between the Shiites and the Sunnis.” The patriarch warned that Christians in Syria and Lebanon would pay the price if Assad’s rule were followed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s.
Rahi’s statements remind us that sometimes a so-called religious leader in the Middle East is often, instead, just a spokesman articulating the viciously narrow interests of his sect. If the survival of the Christians of the Levant depends on Syria’s minority regime slaughtering Sunnis, then it is not at all clear what foundation they have in the gospel for continuing to call themselves Christians. Or, how many Sunni corpses is a church worth?
Thankfully, the prior head of Lebanon’s Maronite community has objected to the current patriarch’s position, as have other Christian figures from the pro-democracy March 14 movement. Not surprisingly, however, Assad’s ally Michel Aoun, who continues to lead a large part of the Christian community, endorsed them enthusiastically.
“I am with human rights,” said Aoun, “but would an alternative regime support human rights? When some say they are against pluralistic rule, would they be respecting human rights? There are no demonstrations at the moment, but rather gunmen and security incidents only. When some try to topple the regime through riots, the regime will defend itself and that is its right.”
Likening the potential post-Assad Syria to post-Saddam Iraq, Aoun asked: “After the U.S. army came to Iraq and Saddam Hussein was executed, what happened to the post-dictatorship Iraq? Did it transit into democracy?” Maybe Aoun was too busy currying favor with his paranoid Shia patrons in Hezbollah to notice that, in Iraq, the Shia had come to power through different means—the vote.