Syria: Christian legislator heads parliament first time in decades

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For the first time in decades, a Christian legislator headed the Syrian Parliament. On Thursday, September 28, Christian member of Syrian Parliament Hammudeh Sabbagh was elected as Speaker of Parliament.

Christians in Syria

58-year-old, Hammudeh Sabbagh an Orthodox Christian hails from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party. He won the seat securing 193 votes out of total 252 casted. This is for the first time that a Christian has been elected to this post, since the term of Fares el-Khoury another Syrian Christian legislator. Fares el-Khoury served as Speaker of Syrian Parliament for multiple terms.

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Newly elected Hammudeh Sabbagh, is a law graduate and comes from Syrian province Hasakeh. Syria is reeling after civil war and Islamic State insurgency. Roughly 1.5 million Christians have fled from Syria. Election of a Christian as Speaker of Parliament comes a welcome change. On the other hand, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) has reported that the situation of religious freedom deteriorated in Syria.

“Religious freedom conditions in Syria continued to deteriorate throughout 2016 as internal conflict worsened and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continued. Syria’s religious communities have endured religious freedom violations from various actors, including President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the approximately 100 armed opposition groups, and U.S.-designated terrorist groups such as ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” USCIRF report said.

“ISIS continues to severely deny freedom of religion or belief within its territory; the group regulates all religious activities in order to maintain its power. It categorizes all individuals living within the so-called Islamic State as deviants, enemies, People of the Book, or believers.

Human rights organizations report that only nine Armenian families remain in Raqqa, and no Christians have remained in Deir-ez-Zor under ISIS control. The majority of Christians have fled to al-Assad-held areas, Lebanon, Armenia, or the West instead,” USCIRF reported.