Patriarch Gregorios III, the Syria-based head of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, is warning Western leaders not to encourage the revolutions currently shaking up the Middle East.
“Our Arab countries are not ready for revolutions, and not even for democracy of the European kind and model,” the patriarch explained in a recent letter to Western leaders. “I am asking the West not to encourage revolutions unconditionally here and there in the Arab world.”
In the patriarch's native Syria, government forces have killed hundreds of protesters in response to continuing mass demonstrations.
The patriarch said “social, religious, and demographic” factors could cause instability and violence if regimes are toppled rather than reformed. He called for “evolution, not revolution,” and said Western leaders should push for reforms.
“Ask the heads of state of Arab countries to work for real development, and demand a clear, bold plan,” he stated. “But don’t encourage revolutions!”
“Arab heads of state should be invited and encouraged to develop democratic structures, freedom, and respect for human rights,” wrote Patriarch Gregorios, the spiritual leader of 1.6 million Melkite Catholics.
He said Arab leaders should also be “supported in promoting systems of medical and social welfare and housing,” to ease economic difficulties that have fueled many of the revolutions.
The patriarch described Syria's own instability, characterized by mounting public protests and increasingly violent responses by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as a “tragic situation” for all concerned.
But he rejected the notion of overturning the government. Many Syrian Christians are not supporting the protests, fearing that a sudden end to the Assad regime would plunge the country into a sectarian power struggle comparable to the aftermath of the Iraq war.
“Already, the situation has deteriorated,” Patriarch Gregorios observed, citing reports of “organized crime, robbery, fear, terror being spread, and rumors of threats to churches … All this creates trauma.”
Under its present government, Syria manages to keep a delicate balance between its Muslim majority and Christian minority. The patriarch described the country as a “model of faithful and open secularism,” and said the city of Damascus was “one of the most important cities in terms of Christian presence in the Arab world.”
But this presence could come to an end if a sudden vacuum of power leaves Islamic extremists and others fighting to control the country. “Christians especially are very fragile in the face of crises and bloody revolutions,” the patriarch said.
“Christians will be the first victims of these revolutions, especially in Syria. A new wave of emigration will follow immediately.”
Patriarch Gregorios also asked the West to prioritize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He said the outcome of that project, which became stalled last year over the issue of Israeli settlements, would be decisive for the future of Christianity in the Middle East.