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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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    • Give thanks that as believers in some areas of Egypt continue to be at risk of violence from Islamists, Barnabas Aid is able to provide various kinds of practical help for needy Christians there, especially those most affected by the political turmoil. We are supporting Christian families in Upper Egypt with housing costs, medicines, food and schooling for their children, and 30 Christian students who were on the verge of dropping out of education because of lack of money have received funding to complete their education. Pray for all those receiving this help, that they will also be encouraged spiritually. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 11 hours ago

    • Give thanks that the authorities in Egypt are pursuing justice for the Christian community following widespread violence against them by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer. Christians were scapegoated by the Islamists for the downfall of President Mohammed Morsi. On 14 August, mobs torched scores of churches, Christian institutions and private property in what was described as the worst single day of violence against the Egyptian Church since the 14th century. Over 100 Muslims have been charged in connection with the attacks; at the time of writing they were due to stand trial for rioting, attacking citizens and targeting the churches and homes of Christians. Pray that justice will be done and restitution made to churches and individuals who suffered material losses. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Jul 2014 00:00

    • “I was so happy and treasure this Word of God. It brings me so much peace and hope.” Uu Dee KoMang, an elderly woman in Burma (Myanmar), was one of many Christians who recently received a Kachin Bible through Barnabas Aid. Two years ago the Burmese army entered her village and ordered everyone to leave within the hour. Uu Dee took some clothes and food and ran, but her Bible was too heavy to carry. Now living in a relocation camp, she regretted not taking it, until the Bibles from Barnabas arrived. Pray that God’s Word will comfort and strengthen these believers who have lost so much and will give them encouragement for the future. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Pray for three Christian prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who are being denied access to Bibles and other sources of spiritual support. Prison guards in Hanoi and Thanh Hoa province have refused to allow Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer and activist, and bloggers Maria To Phong Tan and Paul Tran Minh Nhat to receive visits from their church leaders and have prevented them from receiving Communion. Maria is serving a ten-year prison sentence in a harsh labour camp; she has been beaten by other inmates. Pray that the Lord will sustain and build up the faith of our brothers and sister as they cry out to Him in their need (Psalm 142:6). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Five ethnic Hmong Christian families in Vietnam have been attacked by their neighbours in attempts to get them to renounce their faith. On 26 February, Hang A Khua and his family were ordered to recant by public security officers, backed by around 30 villagers from Trun Phu in Dien Bien province; when they refused, the officers ordered the villagers to attack them. The mob ransacked and demolished the family’s house; their rice fields were confiscated, and they were expelled from the district. In Son La province, four more Christian families were similarly threatened in March. One couple were attacked in their home; they were kicked and punched, and the wife was dragged out of the house by her hair. Give thanks for these families’ courageous stand for Christ and pray that they will find strength in Him. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Jul 2014 00:00

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