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Christian minorities vulnerable as revolution spreads

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt, Tunisia

The overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has set pulses racing throughout the world with the revolutionary spirit spreading across Africa and the Middle East. But while the Western media is delighting in this "power to the people" movement, Barnabas Aid is concerned about what the future may hold for Christian minorities in this troubled region.

Mubarak: "the best of the worst"?

Egypt-Tahrir-Sq_4X3.jpg

Elections for a new Egyptian government are not expected to take place for at least six months, and until then the country will be ruled by the military council. There are fears that Egypt's largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which this week announced plans to form a political party once restrictions on its activities are lifted, will use its influence to impose a stricter Islamic character on the country.

Though Egypt's revolution has not been Islamic in nature, a poll published by the US-based Pew Research Center a month before the protests broke out revealed that there would be some support for the Brotherhood's agenda. Some 95 per cent of Egyptian Muslims said that it is "good that Islam plays a large role in politics". Worryingly for Christian converts from Islam, 84 per cent said apostates should face the death penalty, although 61 per cent said they were "very concerned" or "concerned" about Islamist extremism in Egypt.

On Tuesday, an Islamist judge was appointed to head the committee drawing up Egypt's new constitution. The military council's choice of Tarek al-Bishry, who has been associated with Al-Wasat, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has angered those who fear a takeover by the Islamist group. Christians want to see the removal of Article 2, which makes sharia the main source of law and them second-class citizens; this now seems unlikely.

Under Mubarak, Egyptian Christians endured years of suffering, including violence at the hands of Islamists and serious discrimination in public life. But many Christians expect that his overthrow will lead to worse conditions for them - how much worse depending on the extent of Islamist influence. Sameh Joseph, a church worker in Alexandria, said: "He's (Mubarak) the best of the worst. Whoever comes after him might want to destroy us."

Tunisia's Ayatollah Khomeini?

The Tunisian revolution has been widely credited as the spark for the Egyptian uprising and similar protests in other Muslim-majority states. Although the Tunisians, like the Egyptians, were motivated by economic, political and social concerns rather than religion, an Islamist group is emerging there too as a powerful force as the country looks ahead to elections.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the exiled leader of Tunisia's main Islamist group, Ennahda, returned to the country earlier this month, prompting fears that he may be trying to transform a popular revolt into an Islamic revolution, on the pattern of Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Iran in 1979.

The revolution that ousted President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali last month comes amid a growing Islamic fervency among many Tunisians. Christianity is already very restricted in Tunisia, both in terms of the number of Christians and the limitations placed upon them, especially converts. In the event of increased Islamist influence in government, the Church's future in the North African country, which is 99 per cent Muslim, would be even more precarious.

However, Tunisia is currently among the most secular of Muslim states and there is resistance to the imposition of sharia law and the wider Islamist agenda. Because the revolution was not of the Islamists' making, any attempts to Islamise Tunisian society may be frustrated.

Protests have also been breaking out elsewhere in the Muslim world. This week Iran and Bahrain joinied the ever-growing list of unsettled countries, which already includes Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. Christians across the region are awaiting the outcome of the current unrest with a mixture of hope and trepidation.

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Daily prayer

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  • Pray for Barnabas Aid partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 18 hours ago

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

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