Conflicts in Sudan and the Holy Land are balanced this month by diplomatic changes that could bring greater stability to the region. Regional powerhouse, Türkiye, meanwhile, has had important elections.
Above: Former Khartoum resident Bernadette Hanna tells Another Angle how fighting came to her area on Easter Day (in the Eastern calendar). She tells how God led her and her family in their escape and answered prayer at the Egyptian border for them and other families with infants without a passport.
Firstly, the conflict that broke out in Sudan on 15 April has continued without let up in Khartoum state. Despite ceasefires, fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continued and has escalated as the army uses shelling to dislodge the RSF on the ground. Residents, caught in the crossfire, either stayed in homes without electricity and with dwindling stocks of water and food, or tried to escape. Hundreds have been killed, some 700,000 displaced internally, and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring states.
Amid the fighting, religious militants have also targeted Christians. SAT-7’s Another Angle programme spoke to Pastor Hafiz Desta of the Bahri (Khartoum North) Evangelical Church, after assailants burnt down the church and damaged the theological college and school in the same compound. A news report last weekend said that worshippers at Blessed Church in Omdurman had come under fire from a militia group. Looting is a major problem and kidnapping a danger, especially for high-profile Christians, according to UK-based Pastor Samuel Luak.
Pastor Yahia Nalu, who is still in Khartoum, said the city has become a “ghost town, with many missing, dead or displaced”. Churches there have been unable to meet for a month as travel is too dangerous and there is no electricity. “Pray for peace and for the Church to be strong,” he asked.
Christians in safer areas of Sudan are able to function. There, and in neighbouring states like Egypt, believers have opened their doors to people fleeing the violence when there is no other accommodation available. Pastor Yasser Koko, the Assistant Bishop for Sudanese service in the Anglican Church in Egypt, told Another Angle he was thankful that Egyptian authorities have accepted Sudanese refugees, issuing limited term visas for residency and work. He said the Church was offering shelter and helping refugees overcome their shock.
Many who have crossed to economically poorer states like South Sudan and Chad, however, find themselves in the open with the rainy season approaching and agencies and government services lacking enough resources to help them.
Closer to home, Dr Krish Kandiah, the director of the Sanctuary Foundation, and an advocate for Britain’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, is calling on the government to replicate the programme for refugees from Sudan. He said, “How we treat people fleeing war in Sudan is a matter of equity and justice. Only a few want to come to the UK to be reunited with their families.”
The Holy Land also saw a fresh outbreak of hostilities this month. Some 33 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed in Israeli air strikes targeted at Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza. One Israeli civilian was killed in rockets fired by the Palestinian group. The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem said the diocese “decries the indiscriminate use of force that led to these tragedies” and urged a swift ceasefire. Thankfully, Egyptian mediation helped to bring this about at the weekend, and it seems to be holding.
The people choose
The world’s eyes turned to Türkiye last weekend, as the long-serving president of one of the region’s powerhouses faced the biggest electoral challenge of his career. President Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for two decades but polls predicted that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate chosen by an alliance of six opposition parties, could defeat him. Turkish voters recognised the significance of the vote and turned out in record numbers. Almost 89 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
The results, so far, were not as many observers expected, however. Erdogan’s AK Party (Justice and Development Party) retained control of Parliament with support from ultra-nationalists. In the presidential vote neither candidate received the more than 50 per cent needed, but Erdogan came very close with 49.51 per cent of the vote against Kılıçdaroğlu’s 44.88 per cent. A second run-off election without a third nationalist candidate will be held on 28 May. SAT-7 colleagues in Türkiye asked for prayer for this second round, saying, “May the Lord give wisdom to the Turkish people.”
One of the biggest challenges for whoever wins in Türkiye will be reconstruction following February’s devastating earthquakes. Leaders of the five Orthodox and Catholic Patriarchates in Antakya, one of the worst-hit cities, met with state representatives and committed themselves to working towards re-establishing the “vitality and coexistence with love” the city was known for. Greek Orthodox Patriarch John 10 also met with 300 young believers from the region. He told them, “Do not be afraid… you have proven to be stronger through every crisis and challenge. You are rich in your thinking, your culture, your God-given talents.” He encouraged them to “act with love and service” and promised, “We will work hand in hand to rebuild your churches and we will do it better than before.”
Over 44,000 earthquake survivors in Syria are living in temporary shelters, the Church Times reports. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which is distributing aid via churches, reports that 350,000 people have been displaced and that the humanitarian need is still increasing.
Syrian Christians and others also marked the ten-year anniversary of the kidnapping and disappearance of Greek Orthodox Bishop Bolous Yazigi and Syrian Orthodox Bishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, who was also a member of SAT-7’s international governing board. Both Aleppo bishops were on a mission to free a kidnapped priest in April 2013. Lawyer Dr Khalil Khairallah said their churches “live with pain”, as do the relatives of many other families in Levant lands whose relatives disappeared and who seek to know the truth of what happened.
Arab states’ diplomatic bridge-building with Iran and Syria over recent months has grabbed few headlines but is an important development for the region. March saw rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran renew relations as well as signs of peace returning to Yemen where the two countries had backed opposing sides.
Syria has this month been readmitted to the Arab League after an 11-year suspension. Its exclusion came over President Assad’s brutal crackdown on democracy protesters that triggered a civil war. With most of Syria back under government control and the Western strategy of heavy sanctions failing to bring any changes in Damascus, a number of League members pushed to normalise relations. They are also keen to stem the flood of refugees and drug smuggling from the country, and to adopt a different approach to sanctions that have crippled Syria’s economy and contributed to widespread food insecurity. Following the February earthquake, the Middle East Council of Churches and World Council of Churches also called for the immediate lifting of sanctions on Syria “so sanctions may not turn into a crime against humanity”.
The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria has also announced it is ready to dialogue with Damascus and “all Syrian parties” to discuss initiatives “to find a solution to the Syrian crisis”. The USA and UK have both criticised the Arab League move, which they believe should only occur when the Assad government complies with a UN plan for peace talks with opposition parties.
Another example of this regional realignment was the start of renewed ties between Egypt and Türkiye late last year and meetings this March and April between Egypt and Iran. These talks reportedly focused on reducing tensions in countries including Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, where Iran exerts influence through allied groups and governments.
Barely reported in the West were elections taking place in the North African country of Mauritania last weekend. The country saw its first ever democratic transfer of power in 2019. This month’s legislative and local elections are being seen as a test of the popularity of former army chief President Ghazouani. Almost 60 per cent of the population are under 25 years of age and, for the first time, voters could choose from a list of candidates aged under 35 for 11 reserved seats in parliament. In this strict Sunni nation, Ghazoani’s ruling El Insaf party is opposed by an Islamist party and a third party with a special focus on the nation’s former slaves. Results were still being counted at the time of writing.
Believers face death penalty
Lastly, The Guardian reports distressing news that six Libyans have been given death sentences for converting to Christianity and proselytising. The group of men and women include Amazigh or Berber believers. They have been charged under Article 207 of Libya’s penal code that punishes any attempt to “alter fundamental constitutional principles, or the fundamental structures of the social order”. A human rights activist who has had to flee the country said that any discussion of religious freedom is considered forbidden in Libyan society. The Guardian comments that religious laws are being used increasingly to silence human rights and civil society groups in Libya. Pray that these sentences will be overturned and that, whatever happens, the six will know the reality of God’s presence in and with them and remain faithful to Him.