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Algeria: protesters eager for change

Algeria (MNN) — Protests continue to rock Algeria, and it seems that there isn’t much more uniting the throngs than this:  “There’s an election coming up on the 18th of April and the current president, (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika, has been put forward—nominated—to stand for a fifth term in office. ” So says Middle East Concern spokesman Miles Windsor.

Among the protestors are students, professionals from every walk of life and even some well-known wealthy businessmen. What connects them? The sitting president is in his 80s and there are questions about whether or not he is fit to sit another term…and who actually wields the power. Windsor explains, “The suggestion is that there is a group that is keeping him in power so that they can maintain their own control. This group is military men and business leaders and others in government, known as ‘Le Pouvoir’—in French, the ‘powers that be’.”

It’s not Arab Spring 2.0 for Algeria

Flag of Algeria (Image courtesy of Middle East Concern)

Algeria is a country with a youthful population (roughly 70-percent is under the age of 30), but one that suffers from unemployment and poverty. That, coupled with policies that are seen as corrupt, repressive and ineffective, have led to a call for change. Algeria last saw demonstrations of this magnitude in 1988, 1991  and again in 2010, during the  Arab Spring Uprising, all of which involved violence.

Protestors repurposed the slogans chanted eight years ago during the uprisings that led to the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. While there’s hope that someone is listening, there’s also caution that the powers that be might just decide to silence the opposition.  This isn’t a sequel to the Arab Spring for Algeria.

A crackdown on Christians

Windsor notes that while not directly connected, the state of unrest could mean that the authorities might double down on Christians.  “The crackdown on Christians has been going on for some time now. That started in November of 2017, probably with these elections in mind, as well.”

Windsor says church closures, bookstore closures, as well as a spike in blasphemy and proselytism arrests within the last 18 months.

“The speculation around why that might be is so that the authorities in Algeria can signal to the more hard-line Islamist elements that they aren’t tolerating other groups, especially Christian converts away from Islam.”

Church closure in Algeria, Kabylie province of Bejaia. (Photo courtesy Middle East Concern)

Restrictive laws regulating non-Muslim worship, banning conversion and prohibiting blasphemy put Christians at extreme risk. Algeria’s blasphemy laws also make it difficult for Christians to share their faith for fear of running afoul of the law.

However,  Windsor says, “The international community is watching what Algeria has been doing to the Christian community and other religious minority groups.”

Britain and France launched investigations into the persecution of Christians in Algeria. The U-S Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, is also seeking solutions.

What now?

For now, it remains to be seen what results from the protests and whether or not it means increased pressure on religious freedom. Windsor says it’s important to stay connected on these issues. “Get a real grasp of what is happening.  Follow these stories with an awareness that there is a Church that is seeking to witness in Algeria and that is under pressure there.”

The second step is, “praying into that situation–praying that the Christian community would be able to remain steadfast and flourish under pressure in Algeria.”

Headline photo courtesy Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr/CC

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