Two Bishops carrying out relief work in northern Syria appear to have been kidnapped by rebels, underscoring the increasingly sectarian dimension of the conflict. Syria’s minorities have long worried about their future if Assad falls, fearing a similar fate to that of their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East.
Indeed, of all the Arab Spring’s various let-downs the failure to protect minorities is perhaps the most glaring. The attacks on Christians in Egypt earlier this month which resulted in two deaths and left close to 100 people hospitalised epitomises the decay of any pluralistic promise the Arab revolutions may have once offered. Those attacks followed the effective eradication of Jewish life from Egypt last year. The Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria was the last functioning centre of Jewish worship in the country and was maintained by an Israeli Rabbi of Egyptian descent. He was barred from returning to host services there during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur last September when the Muslim Brotherhood warned they were unable to guarantee his security.
As these traditional communities – long established and broadly considered ‘people of the book’ (i.e. Abrahamic monotheists) – face increased persecution, the position of anyone holding beliefs beyond normative Sunni Islam is imperilled. What of the atheists and apostates, or the regions other minorities like the Druze and Baha’is?
The implications of all this are poorly understood on the ground. Sunnis have failed to grasp that once the minorities fold, greater authoritarianism will follow. In that event everyone but the most extreme and conservative elements of society will suffer and the region will look distinctly worse than it did before its autocrats were swept away.