In 2011, I wanted to be part of the change in Syria in its very early stages. I challenged others in my Syrian Christian community who were OK with Bashar Assad and the previous status quo. I ignored their fears from the unknown future, which turned to be scary for real, and went against the Assad regime publicly and effectively.
After a year I had to leave the country due to pressure from the Assad regime’s secret police.
Back then, I was 19 years old and full of enthusiasm and desire for change.
My first destination was Sweden. After my struggle in Syria, my name was known to the political opposition. In Sweden I received a letter inviting me to be part of the Syrian National Council conference that was going to take place in Tunisia in December 2011.
Back then, I didn’t know how dirty politics can be. While the people were struggling for change in Syria, paying a heavy price because of the choice of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups who choose to challenge Assad with arms rather than peacefully with protests. The Muslim Brotherhood was pushing people to armed confrontation with a regime that had all kinds of arms, including chemical weapons. They knew it and still wanted to push very young people to face the Syrian army along with Iran militias armed with a Russian Kalashnikov.
Outside Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood group was dominating Tunisia’s conference and the whole scene for the Syrian opposition.
During the conference, I was accused by Muslim Brotherhood members of being a spy for several intelligence agencies, including Assad’s Mukhabarat secret police. This was an example of their hatred and desire to oust a young Arab Christian woman who aims for a civic future for Syria, a future for youths who respect education and progression.
Most young Syrians who arrived in Europe wanted to know right away how they could go back to college.
Syria means a lot of beautiful things that the radical groups that led the opposition wanted to change. In Syria, we have some of the best dramas in the Arab world, very talented men and women who made a history and legacy for Syrian art.
The Muslim Brotherhood wanted us ousted from the change. They ended up transforming it into an ugly thing, so much that former U.S. President Barack Obama, the current administration and the rest of the world agreed that the alternative to Assad was more frightening.
Today the areas “liberated” from Assad are nothing more than a hub for radical groups, some of which make al-Qaida seem moderate in comparison.
The funny thing is that the Muslim Brotherhood that accuses Christians of being spies for the West or traitors has done nothing for Syrians now or in the past. When I was called a spy I cried for days, and I spent weeks in Assad’s jails in 2011 for standing up against oppression of my people and any Iranian role in Syria.
I am very proud of my Arab Identity. I always call myself an Arab, and I always wanted to influence what I consider my community, the Arab world.
Looking back today at the incident, I just have to laugh and don’t know why I cried.
I should have asked them, “What exactly I was spying on?” They were just fighting over positions in the Syrian National Council, which is long gone.
A few years later the whole region knew what I knew in 2011: The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to rule in any place and at any expense, and the last thing it wanted was to address the people’s needs in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
The Saudi and Arab stance against the Muslim Brotherhood was the first step that gave a safe feeling to those who were attacked and targeted by the group, while powerful emirs like Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar honor Brotherhood leaders like Youssef al-Qaradawi.
One of those groups that felt relieved after Saudi Arabia’s designation of the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organization” are Arab Christians.
There are many different kinds of radicalism in the region, but none is more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood’s. The group will do whatever it takes to gain power.
Nothing encouraged radical individuals in Egypt to attack the coptic community more that the speech of al-Qaradawi.
The changing Saudi position toward the Muslim Brotherhood is very important because Saudi Arabia is not just any Arab or Muslim country. It’s the land of the Two Holy Mosques, and its size, its natural potential and its wealth mean changes there will affect the Arab Christian community in many ways.
Saudi Arabia also owns the biggest and most important Arab news outlet, one that’s watched everywhere in the Middle East and affects all of us.
Today when I see the crown prince of the custodian of the two holy mosques welcoming my Christian clerics, I know we are in the same boat — the Arab ship of advancement, modernity, peace, success.
Most of the barriers that were built between us in the past were destroyed by the brave steps of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
When the crown prince is pushing hard against radicalism, calling it as it is and promising to fight it with all his means, that means to me the general atmosphere in my region today will not accept extremism.
Of course we still have Al-Jazeera channel and other Muslim Brotherhood-influenced media portraying the positions of the crown prince as wrong and praising incidents like stabbings and suicide bombings as normal behavior — not only normal, but they depict the criminals as heroes.
What convinces me that the social changes in Saudi Arabia will work and affect the whole region is that they’re accompanied by efforts to bring young Saudis closer to the most advanced technologies, the coding world, big business — all the things that will let the youths know how beautiful and rich life can be.
The crown prince said, “We want to restore Islam.” The Arab Muslims from World War I through World War II and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire were among the most tolerate people on Earth. They opened their doors to Christians who were kicked out of empire territories where their grandparents were massacred in the same way the Armenians were massacred. When the Jews were being slaughtered and gassed in Nazi Germany, those in the Arab Muslim countries were politicians and business owners and had prosperous communities.
I believe we can restore our whole Arab region, starting with the vision of Mohammed bin Salman, which is very popular and well received in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis are among the Arab people most open to new inventions, technologies and trends. Saudi Arabia was never a closed country. Millions of foreign workers work there, and since the 1980s you could find American products in Saudi Arabia that didn’t exist in places like Syria. We were busy fighting “imperialism,” and this is why the Syrian people in general today hate the American culture and feel hostile toward U.S. products. This is also why America looked for a friendly group in Syria for years and couldn’t find one. This situation doesn’t exist in Saudi Arabia.
I haven’t visited Saudi Arabia yet, but I have more than 70,000 Saudis who follow me on Twitter and interact with me every day. I never have felt like a minority or strange. The Saudis accept diversity very easily, first because Islam encourages this and second because of the foreign workers and the many others who visit the country. This makes the task for change and development there easier.
We the Christians of Syria and the Middle East aren’t new converts. We’ve been Christians since the rise of Christianity. For decades, our grandparents lived just miles away from where Jesus told his message to the people. Our Muslim communities lived with us too for decades in safety.
Today, the change in Saudi Arabia should be encouraged and supported by the United States, not only for Saudi Arabia but for all different communities (Christians, Kurds, Yazidis) who suffer under radicalism. Whenever I listen to the crown prince’s tough and brave crackdown on extremism, I feel it’s our time, the young Arabs who have dreams and hopes for a better future.
Years ago, I felt I was hopeless and didn’t have even a small chance to help bring about peaceful, progressive change while so many leaders supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, with the Brotherhood’s behavior becoming publicly unacceptable in the region, I know the group is losing as it looks for support from the Iranian regime. This is what Hamas is doing, and this is what Mohamed Morsi of Egypt did. Iran is the last resort for the destabilizers of the region.
Hadeel Oueis is a Middle Eastern writer based in Washington, D.C. She writes for many Arabic news outlets and has more than 250,000 followers on social media platforms. Oueis opposes all kinds of extremism and advocates for moderate, progressive communities in the Middle East.
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