Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ZIMBABWE: Churches targeted for political violence


-- Churches targeted for political violence.
-- The scandal of Nolbert Kunonga.
-- Bringing an end to power-sharing.

Churches targeted for political violence.

On Saturday 9 April, some 500 Christians -- including 4 bishops and 46 pastors from Harare, Mutare, Bulawayo and Gweru -- gathered in the Church of Nazarene in Glen Norah, a densely populated suburb of Harare, for a special 'Praying for Peace to Save Zimbabwe' church Service.

Their prayer for peace was shattered however, when a truckload of some 20 armed rioted police descended on the gathering. After firing tear gas into the church, the riot police stormed the sanctuary wielding batons and brandishing AK 47 rifles. Ironically, the organisers of the prayer service had also planned to commemorate the 11 March 2007 'Save Zimbabwe Prayer Rally' in which police shot one participant dead and arrested over 100. As with the March 2007 prayer rally, the April 2011 prayer service had been organised in response to a sharp escalation in political violence ahead of elections.

See: Police brutally disrupt prayer for peace
By Esther Gomo, Nehanda Radio, 11 April 2011.

According to Gomo, after the riot squad had emptied the church, they "went on to fire the tear gas canisters indiscriminately at several churches in the vicinity, as well as the general residential area around the church and Chitubu Shops.

"At the time of writing [11 April], 4 clergymen, including 2 Bishops (Bishop Paul Isaya and Bishop Paul Mukome – who heads the Church of Nazarene, Pastor Nemukuyu and Pastor Caroline Sanyanga) had been arrested. In addition 5 other congregates, including Shakespeare Mukoyi, who is also the Deputy Chairperson for Harare Youth Assembly in the Movement for Democratic Change Led by Morgan Tsvangirai, were also arrested.

"Several injuries were noted from the worshipers, and are being attended to at a local clinic."

Gomo also notes: "The church service was initially scheduled to be held at St Peters Kubatana Centre but congregates had to relocate after the Riot Squad barricaded the main entrance and refused access to worshipers. [. . .]

"The heavy-handed disruption of the church services is a shameful violation of the constitution of Zimbabwe, which allows for freedoms of religion and worship."

See also: Police violently suppress prayer for peace

According to Sokwanele's Zimbabwe Inclusive Government Watch: Issue 27 (25 May 2011), the "Zanu-PF has instructed the police to target church services and the clergy for their implicit opposition of President Mugabe’s violent, authoritarian rule".

Sokwanele reports that, only about a week after the attack on the "Praying for Peace" service, Father Mark Mkandla, a Catholic priest in Lupane, was arrested after a special church service organised to pray for national healing and reconciliation. Ft Mkandla delivered a powerful sermon against violence only to be subsequently arrested.

Insidiously, not only are church leaders are being offered land in exchange for loyalty, but officials from President Mugabe's Zanu (PF) have been using an anti-sanctions petition to split churches. Regime officials visit churches with the aim of forcing members of to sign the petition. Pastors who resist find their congregations split, with pro-Mugabe members being offered Zanu (PF) support to start new churches where Zanu (PF) slogans are chanted.

See: Party abuses churches --- Bishop
By Zwanai Sithole, The Zimbabwean, 17 May 2011

Yet as the Zimbabwean notes: "In reality there are no sanctions on Zimbabwe but restrictive measures on Mugabe and his cronies. Mugabe and his comrades are restricted from making shopping trips to London on the grounds of gross human rights violations."

Further to this, Zimbabwe's Deputy Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Lazarus Dokora, has condemned unregistered schools and called on the police (a pro-Mugabe force) to investigate them.

Unregistered schools mushroomed in Zimbabwe during the economic meltdown, as striking, underpaid government teachers earned income by giving private classes. But what began as private classes, gradually developed into a network of unregistered independent schools and colleges, many of which are housed in churches.

Peter Chinyadza runs a school of some 50 students in Chitungwiza, some 30km south of Harare. While he is in the process of seeking registration, the school -- which operates out of All Saints Anglican Church -- is as yet unregistered and under investigation.

See: Govt descends on unregistered schools
By Pride Gonde, Newsday correspondent, Harare. 24 May 2011

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean Catholic bishops feel they have been undermined and the faithful have been scandalized by the Vatican's warm and friendly embrace of Mugabe at the 1 May beatification service of the late Pope John Paul II.

Gunther Simmermacher, editor of an independent South African Catholic journal, noted that no formal invitations were issued to heads of state, and "international diplomacy sometimes requires unpalatable things of its practitioners."

But as he notes: the "televised sight of the tyrant being warmly embraced by a broadly smiling prelate" was "embarrassing for the courageous bishops of Zimbabwe, and to the clergy, religious and laity who strive for a peaceful transition to an equitable and accountable democracy.

"Shortly before departing on his 'absolutely heavenly' Vatican sojourn, Mr. Mugabe described the Zimbabwean bishops as 'so-called men of God who lie' and 'mere puppets of Western countries. In that light particularly, Mr. Mugabe's reception in the Vatican has created an impression, surely inaccurate, that the Vatican sides with him against the bishops of Zimbabwe."

See: Catholic paper: Dictator's Vatican welcome undermined Zimbabwe bishops
Catholic News Service, 19 May 2011

The Scandal of Nolbert Kunonga

Just as Mugabe is violently confiscating white-owned farms in the name of 'indigenisation' and 'anti-colonialism', his thug-stooge bishop, Nolbert Kunonga is violently confiscating Anglican properties under the same pretence. Kunonga was defrocked by the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa in Nov 07 on the grounds of heresy, schism, and suspicion that he was complicit in the murders of ten Anglican clergy.

(For background see: 'We are being persecuted'. By Elizabeth Kendal for WEA RLC, 27 June 08)

Kunonga now controls 40 percent of all Zimbabwe's Anglican churches -- including 30 churches in Harare alone. The doors are unlocked on Sundays, but only to pro-Mugabe supporters who have torn down the colonial artefacts and broken up pews bearing memorial plaques. The overwhelming majority of Zimbabwe's Anglicans now worship in any facility that will open its doors to them.

Further to this, Kunonga's wife Agatha controls the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe Mother's Union (ACZMU) and she is forcing its members to sign the so-called anti-sanctions petition.

Anglicans suspect Nolbert Kunonga of complicity in the Feb 2011 murder of Jessica Mandeya (89), a lay leader in the rural parish of Mashonaland East who was raped, mutilated and strangled after she refused to join Kunonga's faction. Kunonga denies he had anything to do with the murder, retorting that if he was going to kill anyone, it would be his nemesis, Bishop Chad Gandiya, who was elected by the Anglican Church to replace Kunonga as Bishop of Harare.

According to Bishop Gandiya, five bishops are on Kunonga's hit list for "elimination".

"We're all being followed", said Julius Makono, the bishop of Manicaland, one of the five.

Godfrey Tawonezvi, bishop of Masvingo, another of the five, was recently visited by two of Kunonga's men. "They had all our phone numbers, our home addresses", he said.

See: Mugabe Ally Escalates Push to Control Anglican Church
By Celia W. Dugger, New York Times. 29 May 2011

ALSO: Zimbabwe's Anglicans forced to worship in pubs
By Peta Thornycroft, Harare and Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg.
The Telegraph, 25 Mar 2011

Bringing an end to power-sharing

Mugabe has recently called for early elections in order to end the power-sharing government, in spite of the fact that the "Global Political Agreement" (the power-sharing agreement stitched together by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after the 2008 elections) mandates that before the next elections can be held, a new constitution must be approved by referendum, and a new voter registry must be drawn up. It is unlikely these conditions will be met because the police, the judiciary and the Zimbabwe Election Commission are all partisan and rule of law has collapsed.

See: How Zanu-PF plans to steal the Zimbabwe elections
British-South African journalist and historian RW Johnson discusses Zimbabwe's grossly rigged electoral register. 29 May 2011

RW Johnson writes: "Despite clear and binding international agreements to the contrary, evidence now available shows that President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF is again planning to steal the next elections with the help of a grossly rigged electoral register."

According to Johnson, Zimbabwe's electoral register, drawn up by outspoken Zanu-PF supporter Tobaiwa Mudede, "was notoriously full of dead and fictional voters - who always voted Zanu-PF." Johnson writes that Mugabe has always maintained the register is a 'state secret'. When an NGO did manage to secure a copy, it was found to contain at least twice as many voters as was plausible. Despite this, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has never upheld any complaint against the register.

See also: S. African Institute Calls for a New Zimbabwe Voters Roll Before Elections
Voice of America, 30 May 2011.

As far as Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba is concerned, the Zanu (PF) will win the next elections and "ensure stability".

VOA reports: "Prime Minister Tsvangirai immediately condemned Nyikayaramba’s remarks, saying such utterances put the country in an 'unnecessary war mode' and clearly show that elements in the military want to usurp civilian authority.

"Retired Zimbabwe National Army officer Martin Rupiya, director of the African Public Policy and Research Institute, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that Nyikayaramba’s remarks show that the service chiefs remain intransigently partisan.

"Political commentator Bhekilizwe Ndlovu called Nyikayaramba’s statements reckless."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Farmer reportedly crucified in Ivory Coast

On 30 May 2011, Ivorian.net published a piece by César Etou who reports that on Saturday 28 May, pro-Ouattara gunmen crucified a farmer in Ivory Coast village of Binkro, Oumé Subprefecture, Central-western Ivory Coast.

The militants reportedly nailed the poor peasant's hands and feet to a plank in the form of cross as "the example of Christ". According to sources, UN forces called to the rescue arrived too late to save the man.

Représailles contre les populations Un paysan crucifié à Oumé
Notre Voie-30 May 2011

UPDATE: Christian advocacy group Barnabas Fund (BF) reported on 8 June that actually two men had been crucified -- peasant brothers Raphael Aka Kouame and Kouassi Privat Kacou. Both men were accused of hiding weapons and savagely beaten before being crudely nail to crosses with steel spikes despite their pleas of innocence.

According to the BF report, Ouattara’s men subsequently conducted an extensive search of Binkro but found only a store of medical equipment and supplies, which they looted. Despite there being no evidence of weapons, the seriously wounded pair were then taken to prison in Oumé, where Raphael died in the night.

--------------------------

If this seems unbelievable, I recommend the Human Rights Watch report:

Côte d’Ivoire: Gbagbo Supporters Tortured, Killed in Abidjan
Rampant Reprisals by Pro-Ouattara Forces Mar New Presidency
2 June 2011

This report details numerous gross human rights abuses committed by pro-Ouattara militia: ethnic cleansing, torture, rapes, summary executions, mass graves . . .

Human Rights Watch is calling for Pres. Ouattara to end the impunity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ivory Coast: Darkness & terror; Freemasonry link; Watching Ghana.

Darkness and terror

Below are a few youtube clips that reveal something of the nature of the pro-Ouattara forces that have seized control of Ivory Coast.

1) This footage dates back to 2002. It shows pro-Ouattara, northern New Forces rebels at their base in Bouake. Though they had failed to capture all of Ivory Coast, they celebrate their seizure of the north with the ritual slaughter of an Ivorian constable, in the presence of French troops.

Sources report that when the rebels were confronted with this footage, they acknowledged that the constable was indeed ritually slaughtered. However they claimed to have later used their occult powers to resuscitate him.

2) This excellent, highly informative site has been set up to provide information on Ivory Coast's Presidential Conflict.

In the CBN film clip dated 8 April 2011, Gary Lane interviews missions Pastor Ted Jensen. This film clip contains truly horrific footage of civilians (allegedly members of predominantly Christian tribes that support Laurent Gbagbo) being kicked and shoved into a fiery mass grave where they can be seen burning to death.
UPDATE/CORRECTION
: it is been pointed out that while pro-Gbagbo supporters have been burned alive in Ivory Coast, this footage is not from Ivory Coast March-April 2011. While people can be heard crying 'Allahu Akhbar' in the background, the footage is also on the internet as witch-burning in Kisii Nyamataro, Kenya, 2009.

In the CNN film clip dated 14 April 2011, Laurent Gbagbo's step daughter, US-based lawyer Marie-Antoinette Singleton, defends Gbagbo, explains the election fraud and talks about the terror gripping native and non-Muslim Ivorians.

The speeches and press conferences by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, are excellent value.

The Freemasonry link

The following article -- written to explain why so many francophone African presidents are supporting neo-colonial France vis-a-vis African nationalist Laurent Gbagbo -- exposes the role Freemasonry plays in the perpetuation of exploitative and criminal neo-colonialism in Africa.

According to the author, "It is impossible to understand how Françafrique works without reference to the Masons."

West African Leaders On The Square Against Gbagbo
By Dr. Gary K. Busch, for ocnus.net 5 Jan 2011

Busch writes: "The French Masons represent the elite of French business and politics. [. . .] Freemason lodges maintain a formidable, covert influence within the French judicial and police structures. [. . .]

"Just as in France, Freemasonry is ubiquitous at the very top in many African states. Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congolese president, is Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Congo Brazzaville linked to the National Grand Lodge of France; President Mamadou Tanja of Niger; Chad's Idriss Deby and Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic are among at least twelve African presidents linked to the Masons. In November 2009 Ali Bongo, the new Gabonese President was ordained as the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Gabon (GLB) and the Grand Equatorial Rite, the two predominant Freemason orders in Gabon.

"In Congo-Brazzaville, both the current president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and the former president, Pascal Lissouba, are freemasons, although they belong to different chapters of the order. Mr Lissouba is an initiate of the Grand Orient of France while Mr Sassou Nguesso belongs to a Senegalese lodge affiliated to the French Grand National Lodge. Most of these African presidents, but not exclusively, are francophone: Paul Biya, president of Cameroon , Blaise Campaore, president of Burkina Faso; Robert Guei, former head of Cote d'Ivoire; John Kuffuor, former president of Ghana, to name but a few. There are scores more at Cabinet level and who are staffing African regional organisations and banks.

"The Masons have always provided the leaders and the staff of French colonialism. . ."

Busch protests the Colonial Pact by which means France maintains control over the economies of the African states. "It took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.). France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. These treaties are still in force and operational."

According to Busch, this immoral, exploitative Colonial Pact endures because, "Unlike in ordinary democracies, the French version of democracy is a special case. By tradition in France, foreign affairs are the French president's private domain. The foreign affairs minister only applies his policies. France is the only Western country where foreign policy is not a debating topic in the national legislative bodies. The sovereignty of the French people does not count for anything even if it has elected the president directly. The Parliament has no checking powers and is quietly relegated to domestic matters."

Watching Ghana

While both President Ouattara and Prime Minister Soro have cleared Ghana of providing military aid to pro-Gbagbo forces during the conflict, PM Soro is now accusing Ghana of providing refuge to pro-Gbagbo subversives.

However, Ghana President John Evans Atta Mills "has assured the international community that Ghana will not allow any group of persons who have wicked intentions to use the country as a base to cause mayhem in Cote d'Ivoire".
See: Ghana can't be used to destabilize Cote d'Ivoire - Mills
Ghanaweb 17 May 2011

Soro's New Forces warn Ghana
The Statesman, 18/05/2011

"In spite of assurances this week from President JEA Mills to the outgoing pro-Gbagbo Ivorian ambassador to Ghana, Emmanuel Auguste Ackah, that Ghana 'will not tolerate any group of persons to use Ghana as a base to create trouble for our neighbours,' les Forces Nouvelles de Côte d'Ivoire (the New Forces), the main military force in the Republican Forces which led the recent military action to overthrow Laurent Gbagbo has accused Ghana of hosting pro-Gbagbo men who are allegedly planning to destabilize Cote d'Ivoire.

"President Mills' denial of rebel activities in Ghana was in direct response to a report in pro-Ouattara newspaper, Le Patriote, last week. But, this subsequent accusation from the feared New Forces raises serious regional security issues for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire."

[NOTE: Guillaume Soro is Ivory Coast's Prime Minister, Defence Minister and head of the Republican Forces army which overthrew Gbagbo. He also controls the "feared" New Forces rebel coalition that fought against the south in the 2002 Civil War. The New Forces have recently been incorporated into the Republican Forces under Soro's command.]

According to Soro, pro-Gbagbo forces sheltering in Ghana are preparing a counter-coup. While daring them to imagine themselves overthrowing Pres. Ouattara, he warns that should any attempt be made to destabilise Ouattara's government they will meet "their worst nightmare", adding that it would also be "suicidal for any nation that supports this path".

"The New Forces warn that Ghana would 'inevitably get its fingers burnt,' if it continues to fail to act against the alleged subversive activities."

Battle for Kirkuk looms

Kirkuk is a hotly contested city in northern Iraq's "disputed territories". Home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, oil-rich, hugely strategic Kirkuk is essentially Iraq in miniature.

The looming Battle for Kirkuk looms could well turn out to be the mother-of-all-wars. Turkey, regional Shi'ites, and regional Sunnis all have strong interests. Recently, the United States Institute of Peace identified Kirkuk the greatest threat to Iraq's stability. As the US withdrawal approaches, tensions are escalating and the stakes are being raised, leaving Christians exceedingly vulnerable.

See: Kirkuk’s Conundrum in the Wake of the American Withdrawal
by Mohammed A. Salih, for Rudaw. 10 May 2011

Background

After the 1968 revolution, Saddam Hussein consolidated Sunni Arab and Baathist control over Kirkuk's vast oil reserves through a policy of "Arabization". From the early 1970s onwards, hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs (mostly Kurds) were driven out of Kirkuk and replaced with loyal Arabs. This process was accelerated after the failed uprising of 1991.

However everything changed after the regime fell in 2003, and the process essentially went into reverse. Article 58 of Iraq's new constitution stipulated that all non-original residents of Kirkuk province (i.e. Arabs imported by Saddam Hussein) must return to their places of origin, and all displaced families (predominantly Kurds) must return to the province and claim their properties. This later became Article 140, which further mandates that a census be conducted ahead of a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will be annexed to autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan or remain under federal control from Baghdad. The spectre of a referendum on status has only inflamed ethnic tensions. The situation is highly volatile.

But Kirkuk is not coveted by Arabs and Kurds alone. Kirkuk is also historically and strategically important to neighbouring Turkey, to pan-Turkists, and to Iraqi Turkmen. Turks do not want to see the Kurds further empowered, for not only do Iraqi Kurds provide sanctuary to Turkish Kurd PKK terrorists, but a strong Iraqi Kurdistan could fan Kurdish regional ambitions.

Meanwhile, the Turks would very much like to see Kirkuk's oil flowing north through Turkey rather than south through Baghdad and Basra.

See: The Challenge in Iraq's Other Cities: Kirkuk
By Lionel Beehner, Council on Foreign Relations. 30 June 2006

Claims in Conflict
Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq
Human Rights Watch, 2 August 2004

Negotiating Kirkuk
Posted By Denise Natali, to Foreign Policy, Friday, 6 May 2011

After the city of Kirkuk fell to Kurdish forces on 10 April 03, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) moved its headquarters from Arbil to Kirkuk. Arabs, many of whom had lived in Kirkuk for 30 years and more, were driven out at gunpoint, forced to leave all their possessions behind.

During the 2010 elections, in order to challenge the ruling Kurdish bloc, the ITC entered a coalition with Ayad Allawi's secular parliamentary bloc, Al-Iraqiyya, which is strong in the "disputed territories". A UN-sponsored meeting on Kirkuk scheduled to be held in Baghdad on 5 May, had to be cancelled after Arab and Turkmen representatives refused to attend unless the Kurds were denied participation. Kirkuk Arabs are requesting protection, claiming an escalation in Kurdish aggression against them. Distrust and hostility abound.

As Mohammed A. Salih noted in his article for Rudaw: "The Kurds dominate the police force, internal security, and most of the government departments, while the Arabs have a tight grip on the army and their powerbase is strong in the surrounding villages and towns. These two wings of Iraq’s official forces charged with keeping the country safe have never concealed their distrust towards each other.

"Recently, Kurdish security forces and soldiers from the Iraqi army came into armed clashes in the center of Kirkuk in broad daylight where two Kurdish security officers were killed. Insurgents on the other hand, have targeted the city’s population with car bombs and the police with roadside bombs whenever they have had a chance.

"An Iraqi security official told the Arabic-language, Baghdad-based daily Almada, on condition of anonymity, that the American withdrawal is 'a dangerous threat' to Kirkuk."

On 12 May, less than two weeks after Erşat Salihi became the head Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Member of Parliament and ITC Kirkuk City President, Salihi's heavily -guarded home in Kirkuk was attacked with explosives while the family were all inside. While no-one was hurt -- the attack was clearly designed to send a political message -- this attack and the subsequent attack on investigating police, were highly organised. This marks the first time a Turkmen leader has been specifically targeted in Iraq, further raising the stakes.

See: Why violence against Turkmens in Iraq is increasing
By Hasan Kanbolat, Today's Zaman. 16 May 2011

IRAQ'S BESIEGED AND IMPERILLED REMNANT CHRISTIANS

Underneath it all, normally ignored by the media, is the smallest and most vulnerable of all Kirkuk's constituent groups: the Assyrian-Chaldean Christians. Indigenous to the Nineveh Plains of Upper Mesopotamia, they now constitute a mere remnant, comprising less than 1 percent. Consequently they are politically and militarily inconsequential: a threat to no-one. To Islamic fundamentalists, however, they are infidel 'dogs': i.e. unclean, undesirable and unwanted.

On Saturday 14 May 2011, terrorists abducted Ashur Issa Yaqub (29) -- a Chaldean Christian construction worker, husband and father of three -- demanding an unobtainable US$100,000 ransom.

On Monday 16 May, police found Yaqub's mutilated body, dumped in the open. According to provincial health chief Sadiq Omar Rasul, the body "carried traces of torture and the bites of dogs". But 'traces' of torture is a gross understatement. The torture that was inflicted upon this young man is beyond comprehension: his eyes had been gouged out, his ears cut off and his face skinned. He had also been attacked by dogs and partially beheaded.

Kirkuk: young Christian abducted, tortured and beheaded
AINA 16 May 2011

See: Iraq Assyrian Killed, Mutilated in North Iraq (WARNING: graphic)
AINA 16 May 2011

The gruesome murder -- which the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Mgr Louis Sako, labelled an "inhuman act" -- has sent shockwaves of terror through Kirkuk's remnant Christian community.

Archbishop Sako spoke to Compass Direct News from Rome. Compass reports: "While noting that the murder was unusually brutal, the archbishop said it was probably the work of criminal opportunists trying to make money, and that Yaqub was not necessarily targeted as a Christian."

This is wishful thinking on the Archbishop's part, for as Compass also reported, Ashur Issa Yaqub had already been singled out by al Qaeda militants who had pressured his employer to fire him precisely because he was a Christian.

Furthermore, while the kidnappers had demanded US$100,000 ransom, they could not even wait more than 48 hrs before they succumbed to their hatred and tortured this young Christian husband and father to death. Their hatred clearly could not be constrained, not even by the prospect of ransom monies.

If/when war erupts, Islamic jihadists will doubtless seek to exploit the chaos to eliminate the Christian presence, and not only in Kirkuk.

The Battle for Kirkuk could well be the last straw for Iraq's besieged and imperilled remnant Christians.

Monday, May 16, 2011

SYRIA: Christians vulnerable

Flavia Krause-Jackson, diplomatic and UN correspondent for Bloomberg News, has written a daunting article entitled, Syrian Christians Say ‘Arab Spring’ Changes Could Hasten Extinction (13 May 2011). She hits the mark with her opening line: "As the Arab Spring protests reach Damascus, Syrian Christians look warily at a future without a time-tested autocrat to protect them from religious intolerance."

Krause-Jackson quotes Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim, leader of a U.S. branch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, who observes: “History has proven to us that Christians [in the Middle East] have always had more secure lives, better treatment by people who may be looked on as dictators, like Saddam Hussein. [In Syria], our feeling is, if the regime falls, the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood will seize power and that is bad news for us.”

Syria pivotal as regional struggle for balance of power escalates

When US-allied dictators fell in Tunisia and Egypt, the Shi'ite revolutionary regime in Iran scoffed while the US-allied dictators in the House of Saud trembled. Everything changed, however, when Bahraini and Saudi forces, with the tacit approval of the US, crushed the "pro-democracy" protests at Bahrain's Pearl roundabout.
(See: Bahrain topples its own people
By Pepe Escobar for Asia Times online, 11 May 2011)

While the media have been confused by what they regard as "mixed responses", this is only because they fail to realise that who falls is far less important than who rises.

In Bahrain the protesters were Shi'ites; their success would have been Iran's gain. When, in Bahrain, Sunni power crushed Shi'ite dissent, the "Arab Spring" transformed into a struggle over the regional balance of power.
See: Bahrain and the Battle Between Iran and Saudi Arabia
By George Friedman for Stratfor Global Intelligence, 8 March 2011

For decades, the US - Sunni Arab axis prevailed.

Then the Iraq War opened the way for Shi'ite Iran to gain the ascendancy.

Now, as the struggle for the regional balance of power heats up, Syria becomes absolutely pivotal; for while Syria is majority Sunni Arab, it is integral to the Iran-Hezballah axis and central -- both geographically and strategically -- to the "Shi'ite Crescent".

SYRIA

The fate of Syria's minority Christians is, to a large extent, tied to the fate of Syria's ruling minority Alawites. For, as Reva Bhall reports for Stratfor Global Intelligence, "Rather than exhibiting a clear Sunni-Shi'ite religious-ideological divide, Syria's history can be more accurately described as a struggle between the Sunnis on one hand a group of minorities on the other."

In her excellent report, entitled Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis (Stratfor, 5 May 2011), Bhall examines the rise of the once impoverished, marginalised Alawite minority: from persecuted peasants to ruling elite and hegemonic power in only 50 years.

"The Alawites", she explains, "are frequently (and erroneously) categorized as Shiite Muslims, have many things in common with Christians and are often shunned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims alike. Consequently, Alawites attract a great deal of controversy in the Islamic world. The Alawites diverged from the mainstream Twelver of the Imami branch of Shiite Islam in the ninth century . . . Their main link to Shiite Islam and the origin of the Alawite name stems from their reverence for the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The sect is often described as highly secretive and heretical for its rejection of Shariah and of common Islamic practices, including call to prayer, going to mosque for worship, making pilgrimages to Mecca and intolerance for alcohol. At the same time, Alawites celebrate many Christian holidays and revere Christian saints."

According to Bhall, non-Sunni Muslims (mostly Alawites) comprise about 13 percent of the population, Christians about 10 percent and Druze about 3 percent. She describes the Alawites as "a fractious bunch", historically divided along tribal lines. She also notes that they have often embraced taqqiya -- lying about or hiding their religious affiliation -- as a means of avoiding discrimination and persecution at the hands of the majority Ottoman-backed Sunnis.

Between 1920-1946, when Syria was under the French mandate, France supported and empowered the minorities, particularly the Alawites, as a counterweight to Sunni power. During this period, the internal balance of power in Syria shifted as France reversed Ottoman policies, and encouraged the minorities to take up posts in the military, police and in intelligence.

Furthermore, France convinced the "Nusayris" (as the Alawites were then known) to change their name to "Alawites", so as to accentuate their link to Shi'ism.

By the time the French pulled out of Syria (1946), the lower ranks of the military had been flooded with Alawites, thereby setting the stage for the coups to come. In 1947, the Baath Party was formed. With a platform of secularism, socialism and Arab nationalism, the Baath Party both appealed to the minorities and split the Sunnis, who became divided (therefore weakened) between pro-Baath secularists and anti-Baath Islamists.

Years of coups and counter-coups eventually culminated in the bloodless coup of 1970 that brought to power Gen. Hafiz al-Assad (father of the current president Bashar al-Assad). The only Alawite leader capable of uniting the Alawite tribes, he consolidated Alawite hegemony, built strong ties with the Druze and Christian minorities, co-opted the secular Sunni elite, repressed Salafi Sunni fundamentalism, and ruthlessly crushed all dissent.

Yet the Sunnis were still the majority, and regionally, the Alawites were still regarded as heretics. Needing regional allies, President Hafiz al-Assad forged close bonds with Musa al-Sadr, the most prominent Shi'ite leader in Lebanon. His efforts were rewarded, for in 1973 al-Sadr issued a fatwa recognising Lebanon's Alawites as Shi'ites.
(See: The Shiite Turn in Syria
by Khalid Sindawi, 23 June 2009
Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, vol.8. Hudson Institute)
And so Syria, though less than one percent Shi'ite, was brought into the Shi'ite fold for domestic and regional strategic purposes. This was a coup for the Alawites, providing them with regional allies without whom they would have always remained vulnerable. But more than this, it was a massive coup for the region's Shi'ites, for without Syria there would be no "Shi'ite Crescent".

In 1980 the Assad regime formed a strategic alliance with Iran. Since then, Iranian Revolutionary Guards have served alongside the all-Alawite Syrian Republican Guards, protecting the Assad regime. Dissent was not tolerated. The 1982 crackdown in Sunni stronghold of Hama -- which resulted in tens of thousands of Sunni deaths and drove the Muslim Brotherhood deep underground -- remains deeply etched in the Sunni memory.

The alliance has also resulted in Iranian Shi'ite missionaries having free range in mostly Sunni Syria. In 1997, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Zaydan al-Ghazali, converted to Shi'ism and forcibly took control of the Abi Talib Mosque in Dar'a. Armed with Iranian funds (inducements), and promoting "temporary marriage" (sacralised prostitution), he converted many; and because he was supported by Syrian Security, anyone who opposed him ended up in prison (Sindawi 2009).

Relations with Iran have only grown stronger since Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi Shi'ites have since been naturalised as Syrian citizens.

However, nothing has drawn Syria's Sunni masses to the Iran-Hezballah axis as did Hezballah's 2006 war against Israel. While Syria is still only around one percent Shi'ite, Shi'ism has been popularised to the extent that analysts talk of "Shi'itization" (NYT , Current Trends).

Naturally this horrifies the Muslim Brotherhood and the US-Saudi axis. While Israel, the US and the Saudis don't actually want to see the Assad regime fall, they would love to prise Syria out of the Iran-Hezballah axis. Meanwhile, Iran and Hezballah -- if they are to remain ascendant -- cannot afford to lose Syria. For if Syria was to realign, then Hezballah -- the belligerent, anti-Semitic Iranian proxy terrorist organisation that dominates Lebanon -- would lose its supply lines and its strategic depth.

Consequently today, Iranian forces are aiding the Assad regime while Salafi jihadists from Saudi Arabia are aiding the Syrian opposition. As such, Syria risks being torn apart by an Iraq-style sectarian conflagration over the regional balance of power. Should this eventuate, Syria -- like Iraq -- will drown in blood.

SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

In Baath Party-ruled Syria, repression has been political, not religious, and so Christians have enjoyed a greater degree of religious freedom in Syria than those in other Muslim states where Sharia is observed (it was the same in Baath Party-ruled Iraq). As Krause-Jackson (Bloomberg) notes, under the Assad dynasty, Syrian Christians have swelled the ranks of a professional middle and upper class, enjoying secure lives while accounting for only one-tenth of the population.

Most Syrian Christians are deeply concerned that if the regime loses control, they will suffer immensely in the resultant chaos. Consequently, Syrian Christians are maintaining a very low-key approach both politically and religiously. They kept their observance of Easter very quiet this year, cancelling traditional public processions and celebrations.

The Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Gregory III Laham, noted in late April, that the riots were not as yet sectarian, being rooted as they have been in grievances that are social (repression and inequality) and economic (unemployment plus massive fuel and food price hikes). However, he cautions, criminals have become involved now and weapons are flooding in. What is more, he adds, there are fundamentalist Muslims calling for jihad.

See: Syria: Melkite Patriarch on fears of a future of chaos and fundamentalism
Interview with Gregory III Laham, Melkite Patriarch of Damascus.
by Bernardo Cervellera, AsiaNews 29 April 2011

On 11 May, Barnabas Fund reported that as "demonstrations against the Syrian government intensify, Christians are coming under increasing pressure to join the uprising - or leave.

"In one Christian village outside the southern city of Deraa a home came under fire by a group of masked men on motorbikes, while Muslim residents in the village of Hala have issued an ultimatum to their Christian neighbours either to join the demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad's regime or to leave. Their demands are making life extremely difficult for the Christians, who have closed their shops and are considering what course of action to take. Churches have also received threatening letters."

Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim told Bloomberg correspondent Flavia Krause-Jackson that during recent protests in Damascus, he spotted banners bears slogans such as: “Christians to Beirut, Alawis to the grave.”

As Krause-Jackson notes: "Karim’s Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Egyptian Copts and Iraqi Chaldeans are among the myriad Christian communities that originated 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. . . Still, a history that predates Islam won’t guarantee the communities’ survival."

Most tragically Archbishop Karim is forced to lament: “I don’t feel the U.S. is really concerned by Christians in the Middle East. They listen, they show interest, but we don’t see, especially from the State Department, tangible signs they are worried and want to do something for them. There is just not much sympathy.”

There are about 1.4 million Syrian Christians in Syria, comprising 6.3 percent of the total Syrian population (Operation World). On top of this number, Syria hosts some 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, including hundreds of thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and thousands of Mandaeans.

Who will protect them from religious intolerance as this wave of majoritarianism (as distinct from democracy) sweeps over the region?

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to trust in princes.
(Psalm 118:8-9 ESV)

---------------------

UPDATE: excellent article
Syria Christians fear for religious freedom
By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT | Wed 18 May 2011
(Reuters) - Syria's minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. . .

UPDATE:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 137
Syria: Christians fear for their future
| Wed 07 Dec 2011




Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ivory Coast: church attacked; refugees suffering; lawyers refused; Mbeki speaks.

On Wednesday 4 May 2011, after weeks of fighting, Yopougon district -- Abidjan's last pro-Gbagbo stronghold -- fell to Alassane Ouattara's Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) .

It appears however, that the FRCI may have perpetrated a massacre in Yopougon at a Baptist Church which has been sheltering more than 2,500 refugees. The UN is investigating.

Background: Ivory Coast's churches filling up -- with refugees
By Elizabeth Kendal, for Religious Liberty Monitoring, 24 April 2011,

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports: "On 3 May, the Baptist Church where 2500 Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] have sought refuge in Yopougon neighbourhood was attacked by armed men [reportedly FRCI]. 54 persons were said to have been taken away toward the Shell petrol station not far from Institute of the Blind in Yopougon. Thev[church's] offices including emergency medicines supplied to MSF [Doctors without Borders] were looted.

The OCHA was able to report that: "2500 IDPs currently sheltered at the Baptist Church in Yopougon are being assisted by MSF CH and UNICEF with medical treatment, medicines, child delivery kits, antibiotics and water treatment tablets kits, emergency medicines, antibiotics and water treatment tablets."

The OCHA report also notes that the 27,000 refugees still holed up in the Catholic mission in Duékoué have finally received food from the WFP (World Food Program) after a delay of two weeks. However, the 895 refugees currently staying at the UEESO (Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) church in Duékoué have not received WFP food assistance since the end of March. Fortunately the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been able to distribute 750 kg of rice, 10 cartons of sardines, 68 litres of cooking oil, and 5 kg of salt to the UEESO church.

According to the OCHA report, refugees sheltering in St. Bernard's Church Abidjan face eviction "this week" (i.e. first week of May); but the report does not say who is evicting them or why.

Clearly the humanitarian and security situation for Ivory Coast's Christian remains dire.

VICTOR'S JUSTICE

In Abidjan on Friday 6 May, Alassane Ouattara was sworn in as President of Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, deposed president Laurent Gbagbo is being held under house arrest in the far-northern town of Korhogo nearly 600 kilometres (370 miles) due north of Abidjan. His wife, Simone, is being detained at a separate location, in Odienné in the far northwest.

Also on Friday 6 May, two prominent Paris-based lawyers -- Jacques Verges and Marcel Ceccaldi -- arrived to represent Laurent Gbagbo at his hearing in the northern city of Korhogo. They did not get far however, as they were forced to return to France after their visas were refused at Abidjan airport. A third lawyer, the Franco-Cameroonian lawyer Lucie Bourthoumieux, was able to pass through passport control as she had rights of residency. However, she elected to return to Paris with her colleagues. According to the statement issued by Paris law firm Bourthoumieux on behalf of the three lawyers, "The three lawyers were turned away in circumstances that resembled a trap."

Jacques Verges regards this as evidence that the authorities in Ivory Coast did not want the former president to receive a proper defence. "I am very pessimistic about the future of a regime which treats lawyers in such a way," he said.

Marcel Ceccaldi added: "If Laurent Gbagbo does not want to be heard without the presence of his lawyers, there cannot be any hearing according to Ivorian law."

See: Gbagbo grilled over Ivory Coast unrest, 6 May 2011

On Saturday 7 May, Ivory Coast's state prosecutor, Simplice Kouadio Koffi, began the formal questioning of Gbagbo, despite the absence of his lawyers.

"Laurent Gbagbo has been questioned in the presence of his personal doctor," Koffi told AFP. "I will travel to Odienné Sunday to begin questioning Simone Gbagbo," he added.

"So this is why they wanted to stop us coming," French lawyer Marcel Ceccaldi said Saturday from Paris. "On the one hand, they announce they are setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and on the other they start proceedings against the president. That is going to accentuate the faultlines inside the country." (AFP)

Ceccaldi plans to take up the matter with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Marie-Antoinette Singleton -- Laurent and Simone Gbagbo's US-based lawyer-daughter -- is concerned that her parents have been "kidnapped as war booty, without any legal mandate". She has written a letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy in which she laments that her family has had no news of her parents and Alassane Ouattara has not responded to her request to be allowed to visit her father.

None of this should not surprise anyone, as the stated goal of Ouattara's rebellion was always control of Ivory Coast, not justice. Guillaume Soro, former leader of the northern rebel forces Forces Nouvelles (New Forces), now Prime Minister of Ivory Coast, was quite unambiguous in May 2004 when he declared the rebels' intentions: "Why should we content ourselves with Bouake? We want all of Ivory Coast!"

See: Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels).
By Elizabeth Kendal for WEA RLC, Friday 11 June 2004

MBEKI SPEAKS

In an article entitled, What the World Got Wrong in Cote D'Ivoire, published in Foreign Policy magazine on 29 April 2011, Thabo Mbeki asks the most important question of all: "Why is the United Nations entrenching former colonial powers on our continent?"

Mbeki's article is an immensely important one for anyone who still needs convincing that only things ignoble -- such as betrayal, megalomania, greed and abuse of power -- lay behind the profound crisis gripping Ivory Coast; a crisis that will not easily be resolved.

Mbeki wonders why the "international community" (i.e. the UN and the West) insisted that Ivory Coast hold presidential elections when the conditions simply did not exist to conduct free and fair polling. According to signed agreements, the country should first have been unified and the rebels disarmed. Neither of these conditions had been met. Despite concerns, Gbagbo was pressured into holding elections that could never have been free and fair (particularly in the rebel-held north) and could only ever have consolidated the crisis.

As Mbeki notes, the very people who were insisting on rule of law as fundamental to democracy, acted illegally to recognise the electoral commission's provisional results, despite the fact that the Constitutional Council, which had been investigation numerous election irregularities (mostly in the rebel-controlled north), is the only body constitutionally empowered to announce results.

Mbeki notes that as both Gbagbo and Ouattara laid claim to the presidency, Gbagbo proposed that in order to resolve the matter, an international commission should be established to verify the election results, with the important pre-condition that both he and Ouattara should accept the determination of the commission.

"This proposal was rejected by the international community," laments Mbeki, "despite the fact that it would have resolved the electoral dispute without resort to war . . .

". . . Clearly the independent international commission proposed by Laurent Gbagbo could have been established and empowered to make a definitive and binding determination about what had happened. Time will tell why this was not done!"

Furthermore, notes Mbeki, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General then chose to "exceed his mandate" and declare Ouattara the winner, making the UN Mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) "a partisan in the Ivorian conflict, rather than a neutral peacemaker". From that point, the UN, along with France, militarily intervened to open the way for the northern rebels (the Forces Nouvelles) to defeat the Ivorian Armed Forces and capture Laurent Gbagbo "under the shameless pretence that it was acting to protect civilians".

Mbeki deplores France's Françafrique policies, with which the neo-colonial power advances its own interests at Francophone Africa's expense.

He notes that President Gbagbo had no possibility to act on his own to reunify the country and achieve reconciliation amongst the peoples. (In this regard it is important to remember that when Pres. Gbagbo did attempt to reunify the country in Nov 2004, France intervened to prevent it.) Mbeki asserts that President Ouattara will not be able to realise those objectives either, outside of an honest agreement with the Ivorian population represented by Gbagbo.

Mbeki also quotes US ambassador in Ivory Coast, Wanda L. Nebsit, who, in July 2009, expressed concerns about the role being played by Blaise Compaore, the president of neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Finally, Mbeki concludes that the events in Ivory Coast have "exposed the reality of the balance and abuse of power in the post-Cold War era, and put paid to the fiction that the major powers respect the rule of law in the conduct of international relations, even as defined by the U.N. Charter, and that, as democrats, they respect the views of the peoples of the world.

"We can only hope that Laurent and Simone Gbagbo and the Ivorian people do not continue to suffer as abused and humiliated victims of a global system which, in its interests, while shouting loudly about universal human rights, only seeks to perpetuate the domination of the many by the few who dispose of preponderant political, economic, military and media power."

What the World Got Wrong in Cote D'Ivoire
By Thabo Mbeki,
Foreign Policy, 29 April 2011