Update in Middle East: Turmoil Continues
Six months after the regime of Ben Ali tumbled down in Tunisia, the Middle East is still full of unrest. Elections in Tunisia have been postponed from July until October. Tunisia is home to a small group of Christian believers, numbering less than 2,000. This community has been living in fear since a Polish Catholic priest was murdered by extreme Islamists. The same group has intensified pressure upon the evangelical community as well, especially on those Muslim Background Believers (Christians who have come to faith from Islam) who have connections with the church outside of Tunisia. Most MBB’s feel very insecure and are wondering what the future holds for them.
The situation has become even more dramatic for the two countries neighboring Tunisia. To the east, Libya is torn apart by a bloody civil war, and most ex-patriot Christians have fled the country. Open Doors was able to obtain an update from the church leadership in Tripoli last week. They stated that 75 percent of the believers in their fellowship have left. However, all the leaders have remained. They further state that life has become much more complicated because food prices are skyrocketing and no one knows what the war will bring to the citizens of Tripoli. Open Doors has not been able to get a recent update on the situation of believers in the eastern part of Libya.
Algeria, Tunisia’s other neighbor, has stepped up its campaign against Christians. Eight churches were forcibly closed down in the area of Bejaja, and one Algerian believer was sentenced to five years for handing out a Bible to a neighbor; a sentence without precedent in the entire region. The Christian minority in Algeria makes up less than 0.1 percent of the population.
On the Arabian Peninsula, a civil war is also impacting Yemen. Most foreign Christians have left the country. This is bad news for the tiny national Christian community, which has been partly isolated by the political unrest. However, a number of Yemenis have recently reacted positively to programs from a Christian radio ministry. Actually, the impact of modern mass media has grown rapidly for the past six months. Members of Open Doors’ staff, who are involved in multimedia, are amazed about the increase of new believers on the Peninsula.
Syria, the other country in the region with a sizable Christian minority, is caught in the grip of violence and fear. While Western news agencies focus only on the casualties, Open Doors’ regional team is very concerned about what Syrian believers are reporting. One Syrian pastors shared; “The fear is of what will happen to the Christians if the government changes and Sunni Muslims take over? It is believed that all Christians will emigrate. The country is not for Christians anymore and over time, it will be emptied out. We just do what we can to encourage the ones that remain, but the reality is we have no place here.” Another Syrian pastor commented; “Just read the slogans on the walls; ‘Let’s kill all the Alawites (the minority group to whom President Assad belongs, who has been ruling the country for almost four decades) and let’s send the Christians to Beirut'” (meaning, forcibly move the Christian minority to Lebanon, the only country in the region which used to be Christian).
Lord Jesus, we pray today for peace and tolerance toward the Christian minority in the Middle East and North Africa. We pray that our brothers and sisters will be able to remain in the region where Your Church has been a witness for Your Gospel for over 20 centuries. Father strengthen them as You provide for all of their needs, giving the praise glory to Your Holy Name. Amen