Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai did not serve the Syrian regime when he traveled to Paris and expressed his fears to the French that a possible ascension of radical Sunni groups to power if the regime in Damascus falls. If anything, his words affected Syrian Christians and their position in a sea of Muslims world.
For people in the region it seemed the Maronite Patriarch was campaigning in defense of the brutal Syrian regime. It is believed that the patriarch wanted from Catholic France, now a major player against Assad’s regime, to put the fear of Syrian and Lebanese Christians before the calls for the fall of the regime, regardless of other human and political considerations.
It is not wise to expose his followers to high risk by defending Assad’s regime and to antagonize majority Sunnis in the region. That apprehension of claiming radical Muslims will succeed the Assad’s regime only exists in the Syrian state media which uses its propaganda to sow fear among the Alawites and the Christians.
No one will accept a militant Sunni regime. If there is one, it will be fought like the way other extremist groups were fought and prevented from taking power.
It is a myth to claim that this crumbling regime is a guarantee against religious extremism. The fact is that the Syrian regime has encouraged extremism in the region over the last few years. Without the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which grew up in Damascus, wouldn’t have lasted till now. Without the Syrian regime, the extremist Sunni al-Qaeda network could not have established a base in Syria from which carried out attacks against Americans and Iraqis in neighboring Iraq, where thousands of Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Christians have been killed in the past seven years under the banner of fighting the American occupation. Without the Syrian regime, the Iranian Mullahs wouldn’t have found a foothold in the Arab world.
How then can Patriarch Rai claim that he fears an extremist Sunni regime will take power in Damascus? The biggest sponsor of extremist Islamist groups in the region was, and remains, the Assad’s regime and the evidence is clear to everyone.
Christian leaders should know that defending Assad will not save his regime from collapse, but such actions will only implicate them. The growing events in Syria have made it impossible to turn the clock back, and the regime that is sinking wants to drag down with it any group. This is what baffles us about the head of the Maronite Church's involvement in defending the worst regime in Syrian history, a regime that spilled the blood of Muslims and Christians in Lebanon itself. We cannot compare someone of the stature of the patriarch with politicians like Suleiman Frangieh, who is glued to Assad’s regime, or an ambivalent politician, like General Michel Aoun, because both men are politicians and expected to changes sides and repudiate the regime when it falls. Will Patriarch Rai to withdraw his words and repudiate his defense of the regime there? And what about his followers?
The openness and objectivity that the patriarch claims requires active participation in the uprising in order to be able to participate in the reshaping of Syria’s future instead of standing on the opposite of popular demands and alongside the regime, which committed grave mistakes against people in Syria and Lebanon, including Christians, not just in the past six months but throughout the past 40 years.
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article first appeared in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 14. It was translated from Arabic by Mustapha Ajbaili