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Who Will Save Algeria’s Closed Churches: the UN, US, or Hirak?


Algeria’s Christians hope that a one-two punch may reopen their churches.

Last December, a letter from the United Nations asked the North African government to give account. And in recent days, popular protests resumed after crackdowns and a COVID-19 hiatus.

Two years ago, Protestants cheered when the Algerian Hirak [Arabic for movement] forced the resignation of then 82-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, following his announcement that he would run for a fifth term in office. Protests continued, however, as the ruling clique was slow to make changes.

Hirak supports human rights, and I have no doubt they will help the churches,” said Youssef Ourahmane, vice president of the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA).

“And the letter from the UN shows something else is wrong, and now they will have to deal with it.”

Its language reads like a teacher scolding a recalcitrant student.

“Please explain in detail the factual and legal basis that justified the closure of the 13 places of worship and churches,” stated the 7-page letter, written in French.

“Please provide information on the re-registration procedure of the [EPA], and explain the reason why this has not been finalized to date.”

Signed by three UN experts specializing in the freedom of religion and belief, peaceful assembly, and minorities, the now-open letter represents the latest chapter of international advocacy for the persecuted Protestants of Algeria.

The nation ranks No. 24 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the most difficult countries for Jesus followers. Only three years ago, it ranked No. 42.

“2020 was a very difficult year for us Protestants, who have been deprived of our places of worship,” said Salah Chalah, president of the EPA. “[But] we love our country and we regularly pray for its prosperity.”

Algerian Protestants number between 50,000 and 100,000 believers, with the great majority concentrated in the Atlas Mountains regions populated with Kabyle, a non-Arab indigenous ethnic group.

Besides the 13 churches forcibly shut down, the UN noted 40 other Protestant places of worship threatened with closure. It also rebuked the “physical force” used against church members, as well as discriminatory treatment against Christians in airports and other border crossings.

In 2018, the Algerian government denied Christians were persecuted, stating churches were closed for “nonconformity with the laws.”

But in October 2019, Chalah was one of several kicked and beaten with batons while protesting the closure of the Full Gospel Church of Tizi-Ouzou, 60 miles east of the capital Algiers. Understood to be Algeria’s largest church, 300 of the congregation’s 1,200 members gathered in solidarity as 20 police officers sealed its doors.

“May everyone know that we have been beaten and abused for one reason only—our Christian faith,” Chalah said at the time.

“And because that’s the cause of our pain, we’re proud of it.”

The EPA was founded in 1974, and officially recognized in 2011. But while a 2006 ordinance guaranteed non-Muslims the protection of the state, it also stipulated that worship can only be conducted in buildings approved for that purpose, by the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups.

To date, not one church has received permission.

Furthermore, the EPA must reapply for its own licensing every 4 years. In 2014, the application was ignored. In 2018, when new paperwork was submitted, leaders were told to deal first with their 2014 file.

Ourahmane, age 65, has been a Christian for over 40 years. Earlier in his ministry, the security forces told him the church was free to do whatever it wanted—except mass street evangelism campaigns.

Bouteflika was an autocratic secularist of sorts, far more wary about Muslim threats to his rule. In 2015, for example, 900 illegal mosques were shuttered, with 55 kept under surveillance. Much of his popularity was won ending a decade-long civil war that began in 1992…



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