Fr Samir: Syria is unlike other Arab Spring protests

2011-08-07 Vatican Radio

“The situation is impossible right now in Syria, because of the violence. Whatever [the protesters] do there will be a reaction. But the people didn’t want to make a revolution, they simply wanted more freedom, more justice, an end to people being put into prison without trial, and this is the real situation in Syria. It’s like in China, its not any better – maybe not any worse – but if you try to make any opposition you could go to prison or you could be beaten. We cannot support such a regime,” says the noted scholar on the Arab world, Egyptian born Jesuit priest, Fr. Samir Khalil Samir. On Friday Syria's government showed off TV and still images of burned buildings and rubble-strewn streets empty of people in central city of Hama, the epicenter of anti-regime protests, and claimed it was putting an end to the rebellion in the besieged city. Under the suffocating clampdown, residents of the city warned that medical supplies were running out and food was rotting after six days without electricity. Fr Samir, is a professor at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute and St Jospeh’s University in Lebanon. He is also director of the CEDRAC institute in Beirut, which collects literature on the Arab Christian heritage. In an interview with Emer McCarthy Fr. Samir commented: “Unfortunately in the Middle East these kind of regimes are not uncommon, we don’t know what democracy means, but this movement – which was called the Arab Spring – is exactly the opposite people are asking to have democracy. Through internet and social networks they now know what democracy means. They want an opposition to the regimes, that has the rights to have a say in the life of the nation. What has been happening across the Arab world since January, this mass movement of people, is a cry for democracy. And what is happening in Egypt with the trial of Mubarak – is an expression of this. It is not a revenge against Mubarak, they are not asking for his death, they want to judge these people, to say that anybody can be judges for his acts, even if he is the President, or the King, there is no difference. This is a positive point we have to move to this. We are not yet ready I don’t think, we are coming from at least 50 years of dominance of the people. It is a great hope but it will not be easy to realise it immediately it could take ten years or a generation. But we have to achieve this, there is no other way.” One way forward, Fr Samir mentions is to nurture the Christian approach to politics in the region. Another crucial reason why the Christian presence in the Middle East must be safeguarded and supported. “I think the line we have to follow is a non – violent line, but also the protection of human rights, equality, of liberty, of thinking, speaking and so on.” The Arab scholar also observes that “some aspects are good in the Syrian regime. The fact that there are no differences between religions and groups – not totally but partly. But other aspects are unacceptable and unfortunately the president and the government failed to realise how strong this movement was and when he saw how strong this movement really was against the authority he reacted as his father reacted, with violence. We cannot react with the army bombing and killing people.” Despite the increasingly bloody crackdown of the Assad government and the fact that the Muslim world has entered the holy month of Ramadan – a month of fasting and prayer from dawn to dusk –across the country, tens of thousands of protesters marched after Friday prayers, chanting their solidarity with Hama and demanding the end of President Bashar Assad’s grip on power. They were met by security forces who opened fire, killing at least 22 people. Fr. Samir concludes, “I have the impression that the protesters are so disillusioned that they will not stop. This is something that we have never seen – the more they are killing people, the more people are protesting. That means we have reached a point where they are saying its enough! This is the reality of most of our countries so what I fear is that the Muslim movement could be stringer ideologically with Ramadan if in fact the TV radio and media are totally controlled by the government. It could be that they are weak physically by their fasting, but I have the impression that they will continue asking for liberty dignity and a change in politics. My hope is that the government understands that these people are not anti-Syria, but unfortunately their opposition to the Alawites [minority Muslim sect to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belongs] is growing." Listen to the full interview: 00:15:16:25