Algeria: society protests Islamisation as Christians face court
— a call to pray for Algeria
By Elizabeth Kendal
10/6/2010 Algeria (ANS) — As in many emerging Muslim democracies, hard-line Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria have secured the balance of power and are emerging as skilful politicians and experts in the art of quid pro quo. Armed with their Qur’ans, they play the religion card for political gain. Armed with threats of destabilising violence, riots and strikes, they influence policy and dictate the agenda. However, decades of horrific Islamic terror have left many Algerians traumatised and profoundly disillusioned. Further to this, an awakening of Berber identity — especially in the Kabylie region east of Algiers — has seen a revival of indigenous language, culture and history, and increasingly a rejection of Arab and Islamic imperialism. Christianity is growing, especially in the Kabylie region, attracting the attention of the Islamists. While persecution has escalated, the Church is not alone, for many Kabylie citizens and rights groups are equally concerned about advancing Islamisation, declining liberty, escalating intolerance and state repression. A new struggle for Algeria is heating up.
On 12 August two construction workers, Hocine Hocini (44) and Salem Fellak (34), both recent converts from Islam, were arrested during their lunch break and charged with ‘non-compliance with a precept of Islam’ (a highly controversial article in Algeria’s penal code) for eating during daylight hours in Ramadan. On 21 September the prosecutor in the court of Ain el-Hammam, a town in the region of Tizi Ouzou in Kabylie, requested that the men receive three years in prison. When Hocine Hocini informed the court he was a ‘Protestant Christian’ and not a Muslim, the prosecutor counselled him ‘to leave this country, a land of Islam’. Outside the courthouse, hundreds of demonstrators — including atheists, liberal Muslims, intellectuals, rights activists and members of the movement for the autonomy of Kabylie — stood in solidarity with hymn-singing Christians to protest ‘arbitrary use of power’. On 5 October, as hundreds waited outside the courthouse again, the court handed down its verdict acquitting both men. Many saw this as a victory for solidarity. Doubtless God was answering prayers, for a guilty verdict would have had horrendous ramifications.
It will be interesting to see how the Islamic fundamentalists respond. A similar case against eight Muslims accused of violating Ramadan in Bejaia (also in Kabylie) will take place on 8 November. This case has caused such an outcry it has been postponed twice already. According to a 2009 poll, 36 percent of Algerians fast during Ramadan only ‘occasionally’, while seven percent do not fast at all. As one Algerian business executive noted, 20 years ago all the restaurants of downtown Algiers would stay open right through Ramadan.
In a case in Larbaa-Nath-Irathen (once again in the Kabylie region), four Protestant leaders will face court on charges of ‘practising non-Muslim worship without authorisation’. Already twice postponed, this trial is now set for 10 October. The fellowship led by Pastor Yahou Mahmoud and elders Raid Abdenour, Mokrani Nacer and Haouedj Idir is affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), a nationally accredited denomination with some 30,000 believers, mainly in Kabylie. Pastor Yahou Mahmoud, who owns the property where the church meets, will also be tried for ‘hosting a foreigner’ (a French pastor). Many Algerian Christians believe the Islamists are aiming to drive them either into dhimmitude (subjection) or out of Algeria. The President of the EPA, Pastor Mustapha Krim, is appealing for an end to these abuses.
PRAISE GOD FOR:
* the court’s courage in upholding justice and acquitting Hocine Hocini and Salem Fellak, doubtless despite government and Islamist pressure.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
– work all things together for good for the benefit of the Church and the glory of his name, including the public witness of Algeria’s persecuted Christians, the growing desire of Algerians for liberty and the growing social solidarity.
– be profoundly present during the 10 October trial of Protestant leaders Yahou Mahmoud, Raid Abdenour, Mokrani Nacer and Haouedj Idir; may they trust in God as their refuge and strength. May the Holy Spirit both give and bless the words they speak before the court, the media and the masses. (Matthew 10:16-20.)
– continue to bless the gospel radio and satellite ministries that have been so effective in bringing spiritual liberty, peace, hope and transformation to many disillusioned Algerians; may God provide all their needs, and protect them from attacks.
– grant wisdom and justice for Ali Arhab, head of France-based Chanel North Africa, against whom Algeria has issued a nation-wide arrest warrant.