SYRIA'S Christians, under President Nasser's United Arab Republic regime, suffered pressures similar to those of their brethren in Egypt, though somewhat less intense.
Commenting on the Syrian secession from the Republic, one Catholic teacher told an
NCWC correspondent: " The situation for our schools had worsened under the United
Arab Republic, though it had not become as bad as in Egypt."
For one thing, it seems that the Syrian Christians had shown a firmer front in their protests.
About half the 400,000 Christians in Syria are Catholics, belonging to six different rites, notably the Melchite. Armenian and Syrian. The rest are mainly Orthodox, and there are sonic Protestants. The total population is 5,000,000.
In Aleppo, 220 miles north of Damascus, at least 30 per cent. of the population is Christian. In one village near Damascus, the people. Catholics of the Syrian Rite, still speak the Aramaic tongue Our Lord spoke. Damascus is often called the world's oldest city.
The constitution of the former Syrian Republic guaranteed religious freedom, but insisted that the president be a Moslem and declared the state's adherence to Islam.
It was commonly said in Cairo that the union of Syria with Egypt in 1958 saved Syria from being overrun by Communists who were thought at the time to be on the verge of gaining the upper hand in Iraq, next door. Last year the people of Syria were saying that the danger never really existed.
Certainly, Syrian and Lebanese Communists will try to squeeze some advantage out of the latest change. President Nasser has given them no chance so far. But there is no reason to see Communist influence in the revolt.
Syrian dissatisfaction with
Nasser's regime turned on Syria's reduction to provincial status, a drop in foreign trade. and the people's fear of speaking their minds in public. Three successive seasons of drought in a mainly agricultural country made matters worse.
The chief Communiat of the Middle East is a Syrian, Khalid Bakdash, a lawyer, who comes of a Kurdish family. He prudently left Syria early in 1959 and has been travelling the Communist circuit from Peking to Bulgaria.