The government of North Africa’s overwhelmingly Muslim nation of Algeria has intensified its crackdown on Christian activity. It has imposed a limit of 10 people being allowed to attend house churches. It closed 16 churches last year and has jailed several church leaders in recent months.
Persecution watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC) says the clampdown coincides with the war in Gaza as Algeria perceives Christians as sympathisers of Israel. The Christian Post reports that Algeria considers that association with believers as well as foreign and Western influences poses a threat to the nation’s Islamic unity. Its neighbour and arch rival Morocco established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 as part of the Jewish state’s Abraham Accords with Arab nations. In return, the US agreed to acknowledge Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara, which Algeria opposed.
Nearly all Algerian Christians come from the indigenous Berbers’ Kabyle ethnic group, which has a history of seeking independence from the central government. This further complicates the Berber believers’ situation as the government’s efforts to maintain national unity often intersect with religious issues. The government and families of converts often subject new Christians to persecution and impose various hardships on them according to The Voice of the Martyrs (VoM). While imprisonment for religious beliefs is not common, some instances of that happening have occurred, such as the incarceration of a believer over a social media post.
Before Islam’s emergence in the seventh century Algeria was predominantly inhabited by the Berbers who still live in the mountainous regions where despite centuries of Muslim dominance which nearly erased public Christian worship, many Berbers are now reclaiming their Christian heritage. Most of them live in the Kabylia region of the Atlas Mountains, 160 kilometres east of the capital Algiers. They represent the largest Berber population of Algeria and the second largest in North Africa.
VoM notes that this resurgence in Christianity traces back to the Berbers’ early Christian roots, exemplified by figures like Augustine of Hippo who was a Berber. Their revival has led to one of the largest movements of Muslims converting to Christianity globally. The Berbers have even formed a collective voice through an Evangelical association, advocating for their rights and religious freedoms. Their commitment to sharing the Gospel, even in regions close to al-Qaeda terrorist camps, demonstrates their resilience.
The Christian Post reports: “The rapid growth of churches and the bold outreach of Algerian Christians to their Muslim compatriots has incited increased persecution in an already unstable political climate. Christians across the country are facing heightened scrutiny and restrictions, even though churches are technically allowed to meet openly. The Bible Society in Algeria faces significant challenges in printing and importing Bibles, with the government closely monitoring, limiting and controlling these activities.”