Syrian novelist is gloomy

01 February 2013

GERALD BUTT

CHRISTIANS in Syria are understandably anxious about their future in the event of regime change and Islamist domination, the Aleppo-born novelist Nihad Sirees (above) has suggested. But he is confident that in the long term the Syrian people as a whole will never tolerate the exclusion of Christians.

Mr Sirees was speaking during a visit to London this week to promote the English translation of one of his novels, The Silence and the Roar. The book features a writer who lives in a dictatorship - a state of affairs familiar to the novelist.

"Over the past two years, it has become more difficult and more dangerous for writers and activists in Syria. I am not an activist, but I write against authoritarianism and dictatorship." In January last year, Mr Sirees moved to Egypt.

The Syrian novelist, who has achieved fame throughout the Arab world as a TV dramatist, is not optimistic about the short-term future of his country. "I believe the killings will continue, and there will be more intensive fighting, especially in Aleppo." Even before the start of the uprising in March 2011, "the regime used to use excessive violence. But it was largely out of view, away from the eyes of the media and the people." When peaceful street-protests began, the government responded in the only way it knew: with violence.

The aim, he said, was never to start a popular revolution, but when people saw how the authorities were reacting to the protests, they could no longer keep silent. Syrians took to the streets because "they wanted to feel dignity again, and they wanted an end to oppression."

Mr Sirees said that he could not predict how long the chaos in Syria would continue. As long as the international community was unwilling to take action, and Russia and Iran supported the Assad regime, it was hard to see an end to the crisis. "It has become a war between the government and the Islamists," he said. In his view, the Islamists will eventually take over, "because they are the ones with the arms".

But he believes that Islamist domination would be short-lived. "It will not be easy for the Islamists," Mr Sirees said, "because the population will be against Islamic government. Our people want a moderate way, not their way."

This is why he believes that Christians in Syria will ultimately be able to resume normal lives. "The regime has been spreading fear," he said. "It's something they are very good at: fear among the Christians and the West that if the current regime fell, then it would be the end for Christians." After "all the noise has finished", Syrians of all faiths and backgrounds will sit down to sort out their future, he says.

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