Why Syria's Christian Community Supports Assad

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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman. This is The World. Syria says it agrees in principle to allow Arab League monitors into the country. The announcement came just ahead of a key deadline tomorrow. The Arab League is demanding a stop to the Syrian government's brutal 8-month crackdown on protestors. More than 3,500 people are estimated to have been killed in that crackdown so far. Despite the bloodshed and the mounting international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, some people in Syria still support his regime. Among them, members of Syria's Christian minority in the city of Aleppo. Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim is Archbishop of Aleppo. He still has faith in Assad's promises of reform though he admits the country suffers from many serious problems.

Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim: We have corruption and we have this way of lacking democracy. Yes, I don't deny it, but it doesn't mean that we have to destroy the country when we ask for democracy and freedom.

Werman: It is widely believed that Assad's government has been behind the killing of more than 3,500 people. That doesn't seem like a little mistake. I mean, you're a man of the cloth. You know the words: Thou shalt not kill; and you still support Assad's government.

Ibrahim: I cannot tell you that really it's only the government who kills the people. Both sides are killing. And I think everybody here, any wise man, is not wishing to have this kind of violence in our country.

Werman: Sir, there are about a quarter million Christians in Aleppo. Have you discussed your views with anyone in the congregation there? Do they agree with you? Would they feel the freedom to disagree with you?

Ibrahim: Well, the majority of the Christians in Syria they all say that we are against every manifestation of violence. So, I don't know whether you interpret it that we are supporting the regime. We are supporting our country. We don't like to see this country divided and having this kind of killing and so on. We are supporting our country. We need it to have all these kinds of stability and security.

Werman: Before the violence began in Syria 8 months ago, were you under the impression that things needed to change in your country? That it did need to democratize? That Assad was not necessarily on the right path?

Ibrahim: Well, you see exactly after Tunisia, everybody started to get worried about the situation of this country because Syria could not be out of these new changes in the whole area, and also the Syrians here, inside and outside, started to claim for more democracy. And I think this is very right. Nobody can say that we don't need it. We need freedom of conscience, we need democracy. But I think the dramatic situation changed the whole demand of those people who were really seeking to have Syria this way.

Werman: There are these Arab League monitors apparently are headed to Syria and, from here, it's really hard to see whether President Assad will bring about any democratic reforms before the protestors and the Syrian National Council raise its stakes. Do you really believe Assad will come through with those reforms while his troops are in the streets killing Syrians?

Ibrahim: I know that the regime... The goal is that we are on our way to have more democracy, more freedom. So let us give them time for it. You cannot do it by force.

Werman: Archbishop, how much longer are you willing to wait? If that number of 3,500 dead protestors goes up double to 7,000, what happens then for you?

Ibrahim: Well, I think the end is coming because I feel that the feeling of the government is with the stability. So I myself, I'm very optimistic and I think between one week and 10 days we can have good changes in Syria.

Werman: Mar Gregorios, Archbishop of Aleppo, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Ibrahim: Thank you, thank you very much.