On the 18th of December, 2011, a wave of revolutions in the Middle East began in Tunisia. Six months later, after the regime of Ben Ali tumbled down in Tunisia, the Middle East is still filled with unrest. What does it mean for the future of Christians and the church in the Middle East?
Tunisia – The July elections, which so many were hopeful in anticipation of political reform, have been postponed until October. Tunisia, home to just a tiny group of native Tunisian Christians, numbering less than 2,000, has been living in fear since a Polish Catholic priest was murdered by extreme Islamists in February. The same group has intensified pressure upon the evangelical community as well, especially on believers from a Muslim background (MBB’s) who have connections with the church outside of Tunisia. Most MBB’s feel increasingly insecure and are wondering what the future will hold for them.
Libya – Torn apart by a bloody civil war, most expatriate Christians have fled the country. Open Doors was able to get an update from the church leadership in Tripoli last month in spite of the breakdown in phone and other communication lines. Pastor Edward Blasu and Pastor Desiree Dipama, both serving in the Union Church in Tripoli, commented that 600 out of the 800 members of the church had fled the country (approx 75%). The church has been renting its facility, and with the drop in attendance and support, the church may lose the building because they can no longer pay the rent. Another major problem for all residents living in Libya is the 200% to 400% rise in the prices of food, water, and other daily needs.
Egypt –A senior church leader of one of the largest Protestant church stated, “There is much frustration and anger among the population. A key reason is that so far the security forces which killed innocent demonstrators have not been put on trial. At the same time, the economy of the country is struggling. Tourism has not yet returned, and many ordinary Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, are suffering due to lack of income or jobs.”
In addition, following the departure of former president Hosni Mubarak, the prisons opened up their doors and the Salafists, an extreme radical wing of Islamists, have been released. This group has been quite vocal and active in antagonizing the population and stirring up the masses against the Christian minority. The church leader commented, “The influence of the Salafist is nonetheless declining. Many people are walking away from them, as they do not like what they hear on television or read in the newspapers. These statements of extreme intolerance do not receive much support.”
Presently, much debate is going on about the return of 48 (mostly) Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More Orthodox church buildings to the Christian minority. The new government is trying to do justice to the churches by returning churches which were unlawfully confiscated under Hosni Mubarak. This has enraged the Salafists who are trying to mobilize mobs and stir them up to destroy these churches. The pastor added that the government is trying to respect human rights, including those of Egyptian Christians which is home to two-thirds of all believers in the Middle East.
Syria – Contrary to the positive developments in Egypt, where there are open debates about writing a new constitution and having free elections in the fall of 2011, events seem be deteriorating even further in Syria. Home to the second largest minority of Christians in the Middle East, with over 1.5 million believers, Syrian church leaders remain extremely concerned. A priest commented, “Syria is turning into a battlefield between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is backing the current regime, which allows for limited freedom of the church; Saudi Arabia is supporting radical Sunni movements, which may destroy all freedoms we still have.” He added that churches are looking into the possibility of preparing locations in neighboring Lebanon to host large numbers of Christian refugees in case of an outbreak of a religious civil war. “We may actually witness two exoduses at the same time; Syrian Christians fleeing into Lebanon, and Lebanese Christians fleeing to America, Australia and Europe.”
Father, we are in constant awe at Your mighty hand in our world. We ask now that You bring stability to countries in the Middle East and an end to the violence that has covered this land over past last year. We pray for a mighty expansion and revival of Your Church in the Middle East; may Your sovereign hand be with the governmental leaders and may Your Word and glory reign. Amen
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