PROTESTS SURGE IN ALGERIA AHEAD OF JUNE ELECTIONS

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More than 800 demonstrators were detained in cities across Algeria as the Hirak (Arabic for “movement”) protests continued Friday 21 May. The demonstrations are a continuation of the 2019 unrest that centred around then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office. The Hirak was successful in getting Bouteflika to resign, but the protests continued as more people began calling for the ousting of the political elite and a move toward a more democratic system. Protests took place every Friday, starting on 22 February 2019, and continued until the pandemic began in early 2020. Demonstrations started again in February 2021. The movement has gained more momentum this time around, as more young people are participating in the marches. Protesters are now focusing on current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s newly passed constitution. The constitutional referendum (November 2020) attempted to address the Hirak’s grievances, however, the public is not satisfied with the amended law, saying it did little to address the root issues of an unbalanced power structure. Algeria is set to hold legislative elections on 12 June and human rights organisations have raised concern over the repression of peaceful demonstrations leading up to the vote. The Algerian government has tightened restrictions on assemblies since the beginning of the pandemic. While most of the people detained by the government since February have been released, according to the journalist-run news source Algerian Detainees, at least 133 people remain in custody for various roles in the marches. Dozens have also been prosecuted for posting on social media in favour of a new government. A recent ban on unauthorised protests has caused further concern that the government is unfairly restricting assembly rights ahead of the election. 

From a Christian perspective, according to the Joshua Project, Arabic-speaking Algerians are one of the most ‘unreached’ people groups in the world by population, with over 29 million people having never heard the gospel. Overall, 99.9% of Algerians are ‘unreached.’ The percentage of Christians in Algeria is very small at just 0.1% and only 0.08% are evangelical. However, despite the small number of believers, the evangelical growth rate in the country is 8.1%, well above the average global rate of 2.6%. This high evangelical growth rate demonstrates that while the overall number of Christians is low, there is an openness among those who do hear the gospel to let it take root in their lives. However, according to religious leaders in Algeria (sourced by Joshua Project), most Christians in Algeria are foreigners, and therefore the task remains to see this growth reflected among Algerians. The current protests indicate dissatisfaction among the local population with the status quo, which may be a door of opportunity for the sharing of the gospel. Algeria forms part of the ‘10/40 window’ – an area comprising countries in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) and Asia that fall between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitude. This area is home to most of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The ‘10/40 window’ is also referred to as the “Resistant Belt,” encompassing several countries that are hostile towards Christianity. Most 10/40 countries, Algeria included, see high levels of persecution against Christians. Algeria is ranked 24 (out of 50) on the Open Doors World Watch List (2021), which records levels of persecution. Though Algerian believers (often from a Muslim background) face persecution from family members, government authorities, and civil society, they can be encouraged that the Church has historically grown through persecution. The global Church has an opportunity to stand with Algerian Christians in prayer, believing with them for the furthering of the Gospel in North Africa. 

Pray with us for the following:

  • For a peaceful election process that allows the concerns of Algerian citizens to be heard 
  • For the continued growth of the Church – especially among the local population – despite persecution and resistance
  • For the Algerian Church to be a source of hope and encouragement amid this politically tumultuous time 

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IMAGE: REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

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