(Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai attends a memorial ceremony for victims killed in a militant attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in 2010, at the Church in Baghdad October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash)

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church said he feared for the fate of Christians in the Middle East if the Arab Spring brought “radical groups” to power to replace autocratic leaders. Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, speaking in Baghdad during the first such visit by a Maronite patriarch, urged Christians not to leave the Middle East.

“I support the spring when it is a spring, not when it is a winter,” he told reporters. During his visit, he attended a ceremony marking the first anniversary of an al Qaeda attack which killed 52 people in a Baghdad church. “There should be changes in all Arab countries. Dictatorships cannot survive today, we need democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of belief and worship…(But) I fear radical groups might take power and (bring) extremist rule.”

He added: “We are with changes in Syria …and with reforms and human rights but we hope the price will not be the same as what happened in Iraq.”
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled the country  after years of sectarian conflict.

Attacks on Christians in Egypt after protests toppled Hosni Mubarak in February also highlight the dangers many Christians in Syria fear they will face if protests against President Bashar al-Assad bring him down. Church leaders in Syria say they support reforms but not the demands for a “regime change” which they say could fragment Syria and give the upper hand possibly to Islamist groups that would deny them religious freedom.