Freedom to practise one’s religion has been granted in a package of constitutional reforms in Algeria. The change could bring significant benefits to Christians in a country where Evangelical churches are seeing an explosion in numbers among Kabyle-speaking Berber people. Hundreds can be seen each week engaged in worship and listening to challenging biblical preaching on SAT-7’s My Church in Algeria programme.
Amendments to the constitution were promised by Algeria’s ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after Arab Spring uprisings led to the overthrow of presidents in Tunisia and Libya, Algeria’s neighbours.
Ali Khidri, the Executive Secretary of the Bible Society in Algeria, said that the new article (Article 36) relating to freedom of religion is the one that is most significant for Algeria’s growing, first generation Church.
“All this is going in the right direction.”
“All this is going in the right direction,” he said and is “the result of [campaigning by] the Church and Christians for many years now.”
However, Mr Khidri advised caution and said he did not expect to see changes take effect in the short term. Why? Because a 2006 law that made it illegal to “shake the faith of a Muslim” drastically limited the freedom to witness. This was a presidential decree and cannot be cancelled until there is a change of president. “A presidential decree is more powerful than the constitution!” Mr Khidri explained.
Despite this, the Church has seen progress – most notably in 2011 when the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) won official recognition and was permitted to register congregations that, until then, could only meet illegally.
Ali Khidri said that while many current officials don’t tend to “see Christians in a positive light”, he hopes the next generation will have a different attitude: “That will be when the new constitution will make a difference and it will be truly applied for the Church and Tamazight (Berber) Christians to have more rights.”
A related area in which he hopes to see change but doesn’t expect it overnight is in government permission for the import of Bibles. Currently, the tremendous demand for the Bible in Kabyle (the second largest Tamazight dialect) far outstrips the numbers the government allows the Bible Society to bring into the country.
A leader of the Kabyle church highlights a message of grace in the Prodigal Son parable in My Church in Algeria
But the latest amendments to the constitution do promise another important step forward for the Berber community, whether Christian or not. Tamazight was given national language status in 2002, meaning it could be taught officially in schools in Berber-speaking regions. But further pressure has led to it being granted official status.
“In a practical way,” Mr Khidri says, “it means Berbers will be able to communicate official documents in Berber, when previously they had to be in Arabic. In court, people will be able to speak in Tamazight, when before they had to pay for a translator.”
According to a BBC report, further promised reforms include the formation of an independent electoral commission and recognition of the roles of women and youth.
Meanwhile, the feedback SAT-7 receives for its Algerian programmes constantly reveals the levels of spiritual hunger and Christian commitment in the Algerian Church. Some 2,000 enthusiastic calls were received between August and December last year. Many of these callers said how they had been impacted by the Free Souls testimony series; a large number wanted to share their experience of Christ on television and asked if their own testimonies could be filmed for broadcast.
- Give thanks that the constitution now guarantees freedom of religion in Algeria and pray that, as Ali Khidri said, “it will be truly applied for the Church and Tamazight Christians will have more rights.”
- Pray that government permission to import greater quantities of Bibles will be given. Currently, numbers are tightly restricted and approval is often given only after repeated requests and long delays.
- Pray for SAT-7’s Tamazight language programmes, My Church in Algeria, Free Souls, and the completion of You’re Precious, a new women’s show that targets practices which restrict or abuse North African women. Ask that these programmes will enable viewers to become strong, Christ-like examples in their families and communities.
- SAT-7 informs viewers on screen of Faith Comes by Hearing TM audio Bibles including Kabyle. Pray that more viewers will be able to benefit from these.