A lgeria is 99% Muslim with a small but growing Christian population, mainly converts from Islam and their children, estimated at up to 90,000. Many Algerian converts are Berbers, indigenous to North Africa, but are a minority in this Arab-majority country. A new constitution introduced in 2016, after a decade of bloody civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, declares Islam the state religion but adds that “freedom of creed and opinion is inviolable”. Conversion from Islam is not a criminal offence, but those who evangelise Muslims risk a five-year jail sentence. Freedom of worship is protected constitutionally, but other laws restrict its practice for non-Muslims.
According to the 2006 ordinance, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship is in charge of granting permits for approving churches but, so far, no permits have been issued, despite repeated requests by Christian leaders. This leaves the churches legally vulnerable to closure. At least eleven churches have been shut by the authorities since the beginning of 2018.
Three closures were enforced on one day alone in October 2019, shortly after the Algerian Protestant Church Association (EPA) took the rare decision to hold a demonstration in protest outside provincial government offices in Bejaia. During the ensuing police action to seal the buildings, worshippers were forcibly evicted from the Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou city, pastored by the EPA’s president, leaving 1,000 Christians without a place to meet. Officials shut the 500-congregation Source of Life Church in Makouda, pastored by the EPA’s secretary, and closed the 100-member Light Church, in Tizi Ouzou.
Algeria experienced political upheaval in 2019 when 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in April, after 20 years in office, raising concerns of a power-grab by Al Qaeda. After a series of postponed elections, Bouteflika’s successor, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the former acting head of state, was elected in December 2019.
Lift up Christians in Algeria and ask that they remain strong, despite setbacks. Pray that the authorities will reopen sealed churches and start the process of granting permits for church buildings.