News broke late on Friday night of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Morocco with an epicentre 70km south of Marrakesh. Then on Sunday, a powerful storm triggered devastating flooding in Libya, killing thousands. As days go on and the rescue and recovery operations continue, we will know the full scale of lives lost and the damage done.
Destruction in Morocco’s medieval district of Marakkesh is limited though significant. Many whose homes were destroyed or made unsafe are sleeping in public squares. However, many hard-to-reach, traditionally built villages in the High Atlas mountains have been flattened and entire communities made homeless. Around 2,900 people are known to have died so far and an estimated 300,000 affected. Chris Beddoes, Operations Director for SAT-7 UK, who was holidaying in Marrakesh when the quake struck, said, “It’s terrible to see the death toll rising. Please keep praying into this situation and for SAT-7 viewers to know the comfort of Jesus at this time.” You can read updates on this story here.
Just two days later, a second natural disaster had a catastrophic impact in Libya. A severe Mediterranean storm burst two dams causing floodwater to overwhelm the eastern port city of Derna. An official estimated that a quarter of the buildings that house 125,000 people were swept into the sea. Over 5,000 inhabitants are known to have died and another 10,000 are missing. Libya Minister of Civil Aviation described the floods to the BBC as a “calamity”, adding: “I was shocked by what I saw – it’s like a tsunami.”
Meanwhile, recovery in Türkiye and Syria, where densely populated cities were shaken by still more powerful quakes in February, is slow. SAT-7 TÜRK News Manager, Burcu, explained that debris removal has been completed in some affected areas of Türkiye, but is ongoing in regions like Hatay. The province suffered some of the worst destruction and is home to the country’s largest Christian community. Water shortages have added to the hardships in the region’s summer heat. While many residents have been moved to container cities, some are still under canvas, and low intensity quakes continue. The government has said that new house building will begin this month. Please pray for this.
In northwest Syria, where earthquakes added to the destruction inflicted by war, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that people housed in temporary shelters are gradually being transferred to mid-term shelters. Amnesty International, however, has revealed that buildings in some former rebel-held districts of Aleppo are being demolished without due process and without offering residents alternative accommodation. Some locals also complained that authorities were blocking permits to rebuild and preventing the entrance of construction materials into their areas.
Protests and clashes
A year after the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, protests in Iran continue to exert significant influence on the country’s political and social landscape. The demonstrations, which originally began as a response to her death and allegations of police brutality, have evolved into a broader movement advocating for justice, police reform, and increased civil liberties. Despite demands for reform, there have been limited visible alterations in Iran’s ruling establishment a year after the events. The government has maintained a firm grip on power, quelling dissent through a combination of crackdowns and censorship measures.
On a wider front, Syria continues to be riven by political instability. President Assad was sworn in to office for another term on 17 July, promising to “liberate” the remaining rebel areas of “the homeland”. This was followed by a new round of shelling of Idlib province and the deaths of tens of civilians. Meanwhile, discontent with his regime is boiling over in the Druze-majority province of As-Suweida. Three weeks of protests among this previously neutral community have seen the offices of the ruling Baath party sealed shut by demonstrators and thousands calling for an end to five decades of Assad family rule.
The unprecedented protests have been prompted by surging food and petrol prices and the belief that the government is not interested in finding a political solution that will allow reconstruction, an end to international sanctions and the provision of basic necessities. The Druze people are a 10th Century offshoot of Shi’a Islam and constitute between 3 and 5 per cent of the Syrian population.
In eastern Syria, meanwhile, Arab resentment against the US-backed control of the mainly Kurdish SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and a Kurdish-led civil administration erupted into clashes with Arab tribes and over 90 deaths. The SDF commander met with tribal leaders and promised to address their grievances. Continue to pray for the security of the Syrian people, who are hostage to so many competing factions.
Change of direction
There have been some surprises in Türkiye, however. After several years of holding down interest rates despite soaring inflation, President Erdoğan has backed his new financial team in raising rates. The move is part of a three-year plan to lower inflation (officially at 60 per cent) to single digits. The change in direction has also begun attracting foreign investors who had stayed away in recent years.
On the political front, Ankara has stated afresh that membership of the European Union is a long-term goal. Türkiye begins talks with the EU this week on modernising a customs union. A senior EU commissioner has warned that Türkiye must implement democratic reforms, however, if it is to revive its hopes of EU membership.
Free speech or hate speech?
Western values around freedom of speech and deeply held religious sensitivities in the Middle East have been colliding this year. Since January, a series of public burnings of the Quran in Sweden have provoked outrage in the Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Türkiye, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have all condemned the acts taken under Sweden’s free-speech laws, firstly, by a far right politician and, repeatedly, by an Iraqi activist living in Sweden.
Enraged Iraqi protesters twice stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in response to two burnings by exiled Salwan Momika. While censuring the protesters, Baghdad expelled the Swedish ambassador and suspended work permits for leading Swedish businesses. Anger also spilled onto the streets of Malmö, Sweden, this month after the latest incident. Sweden is now exploring legal means to ban these acts and Denmark, which has seen similar burnings, plans to ban the desecration of holy books.
The people who often bear the brunt of these acts, however, are Christians living in the MENA. Momika, who identifies as an atheist, comes from a Christian background and the majority Christian town of Quaraqosh/Bakhdida. Iraqi Christians, whose existence was threatened previously by so-called Islamic State, said they had received threats online and were fearing for their safety. Church leaders of all denominations rushed to condemn the burnings.
Bishop Mar Awa Royel, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, told Rudaw news: “Committing acts of offense in any way against the faith of other religions is an irresponsible act aimed at broadcasting and disseminating hate speech, at a time when we are all called upon to be bridge-builders, and to strengthen and spread the bonds of love, tolerance, and respect.”
Ara Badalian, senior pastor of Baptist Church in Baghdad, said, “What happened in Sweden was an unwholesome use of the concept of personal freedom. True Christianity is characterised by love, tolerance, and rejection of violence and hatred.” It is these values that SAT-7 seeks to demonstrate as its programmes present the Christian message with clarity and sensitivity amid the mosaic of races, religions and tensions of the Middle East.
Imprisoned in Egypt
It is now ten years since security forces in Egypt dispersed a thousands-strong sit-in protest following the army’s removal of President Morsi in response to massive popular protests against the Muslim Brotherhood politician. Over a thousand people, mostly unarmed, are thought to have died in the dispersal. Human Rights Watch noted that there has been no investigation of the operation and that hundreds of protesters remain in prison, including some sentenced in mass trials.
Better news came, however, for Christian rights activist Patrick Zaki and his lawyer Mohammed al-Baqer. The two received a presidential pardon shortly after a court found Mr Zaki guilty of “spreading false news” in an article he wrote alleging discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt. The court had sentenced Zaki to three years in prison, almost two of which he had served already. His lawyer spent most of his four-year sentence behind bars.
Two years of the Taliban
Last month marked two years since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on 15 August. Since then, a poor country that was witnessing educational and economic development in urban areas has seen rapid decline. Over 90 per cent of the population are food insecure. Women and girls face severe restrictions on movement and many have been forced out of paid work, including healthcare. Human rights activists point to a sharp rise in the number of women taking their own lives. One of the government’s latest measures was to ban women from a national park in central Bamiyan province on grounds that female visitors had not worn the hijab correctly.
SAT-7 viewer Marzia messaged, “May the Lord have mercy and rescue these people from sin and put them on the right path. There is no other hope for Afghanistan. I see that these people don’t understand what they are doing, but my own faith is growing stronger.”
Westward, in North Africa, Sudan’s military conflict between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues without let-up. Civilians continue to die in exchanges of artillery fire and air attacks by the army in Greater Khartoum where the RSF remains dug in on the ground. Pro-democracy legal activists, the Emergency Lawyers, condemned the fighting, saying, “The use of heavy and light artillery in areas packed with civilians is a war crime … and reflects a disregard for their lives.”
Meanwhile, in what might seem a hollow gesture, army general and acting President Al-Burhan issued a constitutional decree disbanding the RSF. In the United States, authorities announced sanctions on the brother of RSF leader “Hemedti” Dagalo. In a statement, it alleged that RSF members “have engaged in acts of violence and human rights abuses, including the massacre of civilians, ethnic killings, and use of sexual violence.” Pray for Sudan.