08/10/2011, 00.00
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New Syrian defence minister is Christian: a difficult role

by JPG
General Daud Rajhi is greek-orthodox. The Christian world has differing views of the president’s choice. Meanwhile, violence continues in the country. Assad reiterates after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu: the security forces "will not cease to pursue terrorist groups."
Damascus (AsiaNews) - International pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mounted yesterday, when after a lengthy meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, he said that security forces "will not stop pursuing terrorist groups ". And violence continues unabated. Davutoglu termed methods used by Syrian forces "unacceptable", and repeated that Syria must stop the bloodshed. Amid growing international isolation the Syrian situation will once again be discussed at the United Nations. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad has made an unprecedented move.

For the first time in the history of the Syrian regime's the new defence minister – till now a post reserved for members of the Alawite minority - is a Christian. General Daud Rajhi, who was appointed on August 8, is in fact greek-orthodox (a fact scarcely reported in the international press), on good terms with his Patriarchate, and especially with the auxiliary bishop Luqa Khoury, organizer of a recent ecumenical gathering in favor of the regime. He is the third Christian present current government, there are two Catholic ministers (who, however, do not have a personal relationship with the Church).

This appointment, which in other circumstances would be considered by all as a historical turning point, is evaluated in different ways within the Syrian Christian world. Some, particularly those who prefer not to talk politics, say it is "a good thing." Others, even among those who want President Bashar al-Assad to remain, say: "It is no good thing that one of ours is in the front line in these times and in such circumstances." In other words it does not seem a great honour that a Christian has been called to direct the military crackdown against the protesting population. In fact, the propaganda of the Baathist regime has not failed to point out that the appointment of General Rajhi shows that the view that the Alawite group governs the country is false, as is the belief that the Alawite minority monopolizes the armed forces .

As we know, the President is of Alawite origin, but officially he is a Sunni Muslim, as required by the Constitution with regard to the Syrian head of state, because the Sunnis are the largest religious denomination in the country. Hafez al-Assad, father of the president, was born Alawite but became a Sunni to take over the presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The new minister was born in Damascus in 1947, and has been a general since 1998. He was promoted to deputy chief of staff in 2004 and then appointed Chief of the Army June 4, 2009. As minister he takes over from General Ali Habib, an Alawite, who has resigned due to serious health reasons.

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