Date: Monday 16 July 2007
Subj: Algeria: Christians and the extremist threat.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
On 13 June the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera published a column by Magdi Allam on the persecution of Christians and the lack of religious tolerance in Muslim countries. In the very last paragraph Allam names Algeria, just once, saying ". . .from Algeria to Pakistan, Indonesia to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia to Somalia", Christians are victims of persecution and discrimination. (Link 1)
Allam's assertion that Algeria is a nation where Christians are persecuted drew the ire of the Algerian government, with Liberte Algerie publishing an official response from Algeria's Religious Affairs Ministry on 8 July. MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) reports: "An official response by Algeria's Religious Affairs Ministry to an article in the Italian daily Corriere, which listed Algeria among the Muslim countries in which Christians are oppressed, stated that 'Christians in Algeria enjoy greater rights and liberties than do Muslims in Christian countries'. The ministry also asserted that a new Algerian law mandating two to five years in prison for anyone found guilty of trying to convert a Muslim to another religion was in accordance with international conventions." (Link 2)
These assertions by Algeria's Religious Affairs Ministry, that "Christians in Algeria enjoy greater rights and liberties than do Muslims in Christian countries" and that Algeria's religion laws are "in accordance with international conventions" should elicit a response from religious liberty monitors.
LAW AMENDED; CHRISTIANS ARRESTED
In March 2006, a presidential order that established new conditions for the exercise of non-Muslim religious practice was passed in both the Algerian Ummah council (Senate) and in the Algerian National Assembly (Parliament). The law is essentially an anti-missionary, anti-proselytising law that prescribed prison terms and hefty fines for anyone who "incites, constrains or uses seductive means seeking to convert a Muslim to another religion (. . .), or
who produces, stores or distributes printed documents or audio-visual formats or any other format or means which seeks to shake the faith of a Muslim". (For background see link 3).
On 4 June 2007 the government announced amendments to the religion law. Pursuant to Executive Decree 07/158 of 27 May 2007 all non-Muslim religious activities now fall under the auspices of the newly established National Commission for Non-Muslim Faiths which is chaired by the Minister for Religious Affairs and Wakfs or its representative (a wakf/waqf is a Muslim
trust). The commission is composed of representatives from the Ministry for National Defence, the Interior and local communities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Directorate-General of National Security, the Command of the National Police, the national advisory commission of the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
From now on non-Muslim religious activity may not take place except in recognised and approved associations and structures unless there is prior written permission from the civil authorities. This does not affect Sunday worship in recognised and approved churches but it does acutely restrict spontaneous worship, home fellowships, open air meetings and public ministry.
According to an article by B Mokhtaria in Le Quotidien D'Oran the new commission now has authority over non-Muslim business and worship. It also has the right to contribute a preliminary opinion regarding the registration of religious associations and the approval of sites for worship. (Link 5)
The spokesman for and advisor to the Ministry for Religious Affairs, Mr Tamine, told Oran that the new laws were promulgated simply to fill in an existing gap in the law as the authorities have become aware of the origins of "extremists" in recent years. He said that the new laws will enable the authorities to crack down on foreign missionaries who enter Algeria on tourist
visas to seduce Algerians and convert them to Christianity by fraud and allurement. According to Mr Tamine, these missionaries act under the cover of religion while in reality, he alleges, their agenda is not religious at all. He maintains that Algeria must resist the activities of these non-Muslim "extremists". He asserts that the new law is not repressive, but protective, and will even protect the Christian expatriate working community from the consequences of religious demonstrations and reactions against Christian "extremism".
CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH POSSESSION
On 20 June, five Algerian Christians faced court on charges of possession of Christian literature. (Link 6)
One believer appeared before the court for a second time on 27 June and will reappear in court on 19 December. He had been approached by two men pretending to be interested in the gospel on account of a satellite programme they had seen on El Hayat. The men asked the Christian if he could give them a Bible. When he did, the enquirers revealed themselves as police, arrested the believer and confiscated the box of Bibles he had in his possession. Two other believers were reportedly tricked into giving a Bible to a police officer at a road block. They will face court in September. According to sources the Algerian media did not cover the June trials.
Many believe that the Algerian authorities are overwhelmed and confused by the growing phenomenon of Muslims converting to Christianity.
Whilst this is doubtless true, it is also reasonable to question if the government's increasingly repressive policies regarding Christianity are in some measure being driven by a desire to appease increasingly threatening Islamic forces.
THE REAL EXTREMIST THREAT
Algerians know that the real threat to Algerian security and stability, progress and prosperity is Islamic "extremism" and fundamentalist militancy.
In late 2006 the Algerian Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. On 24 January 2007, with the blessing of Osama bin Laden, the group changed its name to The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. On 11 April, around 30 people were killed and 22 wounded when this group detonated two bombs in Algiers, one at a police station and one which ripped the facade off the President's headquarters. (Link 7)
On Wednesday 11 July a 20-year-old jihadist from an al-Qaeda cell bombed an army barracks in Lakhdaria village, 120 km (75 miles) east of Algiers. This suicide truck bombing killed 10 soldiers and wounded 35. (Link 8)
A MEMRI article issued after the 11 April bombings in Algiers entitled "Reactions in the Algerian and Arab Press to the Al-Qaeda Attacks in Algiers" shows that Algerians are under no illusions about the real extremist threat.
MEMRI reports: "Hakim Outoudert, writing in the regional daily La Depeche de Kabylie, questioned the Interior Minister's assertion that the attacks were an isolated event, and called for an ideological battle against fundamentalism in order to dry up the 'terrorist matrix'.
". . . 'Where did these young people contract this evil, if not from within Algerian society, through a bigoted media literature, but above all within the mosques in subversive suburbs? . . . [Should we] do away with fundamentalism, the matrix of terrorism, by drying up [its] ideological ground, or maintain [its] destructive potential by ceding it the terrain of political initiative? One day we'll have to choose. The sooner the better.'" (Link 9)
1) Una manifestazione per i cristiani in Oriente perseguitati
Magdi Allam, 13 Giugno 2007
2) Algerian Religious Affairs Ministry Denies Persecution of Christians In Country. MEMRI. Source: Liberte, Algerie, July 8, 2007
3) Algeria: severe new penalties for 'proselytising'
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
By Elizabeth Kendal. Friday 24 March 2006
ALSO, Algeria: Text of Presidential Order Concerning Religion.
The Presidential Order was published in the Official Journal of the Algerian
Republic (Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne) Number 12, 1 March
2006. The direct link to that journal is:
http://www.joradp.dz/JO2000/2006/012/F_Pag.htm . The Presidential Order
concerning religion is on pages 23 & 24. (French)
4) Restriction de la liberte religieuse pour les Christiens. 18 Juin 2007
AND – with a clarification submitted from 'Liberte Algerie'
Les messes chrétiennes n'ont pas besoin d'autorisation des walis
Par Samar, Mercredi 27 Juin 2007, Liberte Algerie
5) Une commission pour reguler la pratique des cultes non musulmans.
par B.Mokhtaria, 7 Juin 2007
6) Cinq Chretiens Algeriens devant la justice le 20 Juin.
22 Juin 2007
7) Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Algiers bombings
ABC, 12 April 2007
8) Suicide Attack In Algeria Kills Ten, Wounds 35 Soldiers
12 July 2007. By Joseph S. Mayton - AHN Middle East Correspondent
9) Reactions in the Algerian and Arab Press to the Al-Qaeda Attacks in Algiers
MEMRI, 17 April 2007, Special Dispatch Series - No. 1546