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By Aidan Clay

Washington, D.C. May 10 (ICC) – Alone among its neighbors in North Africa, Algeria has largely been untouched by the uprisings which last year ousted leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Like the recent elections in other Arab states following the uprisings, however, Algeria’s parliamentary elections, which kick off today, could give greater power to Islamists.

Today Islamists square off against pro-government parties for parliament seats and, according to Algeria’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a say in rewriting the country’s constitution. Even in parliament, however, political power is expected to be limited by Algeria’s ruling elite.

The Islamists will very likely win, they will very likely form a coalition inside the parliament, they will make a lot of noise, but this will have very little impact on Algeria’s political life,” Mohamed Mouloudi, an editor and specialist on Islamic affairs, told Reuters.

Still, Algerian Christians are concerned that an Islamist-majority parliament may place further pressure on the ruling elite to enforce laws that can be used to criminalize Christian worship, activities, or conversion from Islam. Algeria’s secular federal government is slowly making efforts to recognize and protect the rights of religious minorities, having allowed Protestant churches to apply for official registration in July 2011, while also indefinitely postponing the trial of a Christian convert charged with blasphemy in December. Provincial authorities and courts (often led by Islamists) have, on the other hand, discriminated against religious minorities by forcefully closing places of worship or charging Christians with blasphemy. An Islamist-dominated parliament will undoubtedly impose greater restrictions on the rights of religious minorities.

Algeria’s church leadership, nonetheless, is encouraging the country’s Christians to vote, believing that democracy will offer positive reforms and greater freedoms. On May 5, ICC interviewed Mustapha Krim, the President of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), about the election:

ICC: Are you encouraging the Algerian Christian community to participate in the parliamentary elections?

Mustapha Krim: As Christians and Algerian citizens, it is our duty to vote. We must take part in the decisions of the country that we belong. I encouraged the community to vote freely, without giving any instructions. I preached a sermon to show that throughout the years, Christians have been involved in the political process without betraying their loyalty to God – similar to the prophet Daniel, who remained faithful to God despite all the charges that were falsely made against him.

Christians need to be benchmarks in society by participating in the election. We need to elect deputies that will represent the Christian minority. I was informed that there is a Christian who has topped the list and several others that are on the list [of candidates]. I rejoiced about this. We need to bring strong leaders into our very corrupted society.

ICC: What do you think will be the outcome of the elections?

MK: I hope there will be progress in a democracy and that the newly elected deputies will work together to improve the situation of the country.

Algeria’s Christian population consists of about 45,000 Catholics and between 80,000 – 100,000 Protestants, mostly from the Berber community, as indigenous ethnic group in North Africa.