For 42 years Moammar Gadhafi ruled Libya with an iron fist. However, with his death last week, his regime finally came to an end. What does his death mean for Libyan Christians?
“For now, the small minority of local Libyan Christians will continue to keep a low profile” says an Open Doors observer for the Middle East and North Africa. Gadhafi led a tight security system that monitored his people, whether they were Muslims or Christians. Foreign Christians were allowed to express their faith publicly, but converts from a Muslim background kept a low profile for fear of being expelled from their family or being forced to return to Islam. Dr. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, answers several questions about the unsettled situation there.
Were you surprised when it was announced last Thursday that Gadhafi had been killed?
Yes, it came as a surprise. Of course his pursuers were looking for him all the time, but it seemed hard to know exactly where he was. So when the news came that he was caught and later killed, this came as a surprise.
What was the situation for the Christians when Gadhafi was still in power?
In general they were very suspicious and did not know whom they could trust. For example, they did not know if they could share with a friend or relative that they had become a Christian, fearing that this relative or friend might go straight to the security service or would even take action themselves.
In addition to the few local Christians, there were many foreign Christians including a large group from sub-Saharan African countries. Were they particularly at risk?
Especially in the first months of the revolution, it was a dangerous situation for them. Gadhafi had hired mercenaries from sub-Saharan countries. When the revolution started, black Africans became targets for revenge attacks, because the attackers thought they might be mercenaries. This situation is believed to have improved now, especially since the fall of the regime.
What were the wishes expressed by the Christian community during the revolution?
At some point there was an absolute need for humanitarian aid, but also requests for Christian literature and Bibles. Open Doors was able to provide both, with the help of several partners during a window of opportunity when the borders were relatively open.
What do Christians expect now?
It is not very likely that the situation for the Christians will quickly change. The new government will likely be an Islamic government and for now Christians will continue in the same way that they were used to. With the announcement Sunday from National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil that Islamic Sharia law would be the main source of legislation, Libya will certainly not experience a democracy like many countries in the West. Without total freedom of religion, a democracy cannot function. It is vital that we continue to pray for these Christians and the future of the country.
Lord of heaven and earth, in the midst of the unknown now in Libya, we thank you for the sure confidence that You are sovereign over all the earth, including this country that has known much bloodshed over the past months. Bring about beauty out of ashes. Protect and strengthen Your people, our brothers and sisters, in Libya and cause the light of Your truth and grace to be reflected in their lives. In the Name of Christ our hope, Amen.