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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05ALGIERS1287 2005-06-27 16:18:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Algiers
Cable title:  

RISE OF CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY IN ALGERIA

Tags:   KIRF KISL PHUM AG 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ALGIERS 001287 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF KISL PHUM AG
SUBJECT: RISE OF CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY IN ALGERIA

REF: A. (A) ALGIERS 162

B. (B) ALGIERS 977

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
--------------------



1. (U) While the overall numbers are very modest compared
to the still overwhelming Muslim population, Algeria is
currently experiencing an unprecedented rise in conversions
to Christianity, particularly by the Berber population in the
Kabylie region. Driving this trend are several factors,
including: anti-Arab traditions in the Kabylie, social and
economic grievances, the greater availability of religious
literature and economic grievances, the appeal of the
Christian message to a region that sees itself as
dispossessed, and a perhaps subconscious desire of Berbers to
return to their pre-Islamic Christian roots.



2. (SBU) Although the GOA downplays any concern about being
disturbed by Christianity or its registered churches, Islamic
clergy have reacted negatively and a continued sharp increase
in conversions could, over time, inject new tensions into
already tenuous relations between the Kabylie and central
government. It could also subject agreement seeking to limit
Islamic influences in the schools and in public life to new
pressures from religious conservatives. (End Summary).


CHRISTIANITY GAINING ACCEPTANCE,


--------------------------





3. (SBU) According to the Catholic Archbishop of Algeria,
who has lived all his life in Algeria, and a longtime
American Methodist Pastor, who has lived in Algeria for over
forty years and who has served as President of the
Association of Protestant Churches of Algeria for much of
that time, they have never seen Christianity in Algeria as
robust as it is today. Conversions were occurring much more
frequently than in the past and the state, while not
tolerating overt proselytizing, was taking a permissive
approach to this social and religious phenomenon. Both men
were generally, positive about the future of Algeria and the
prospects for Christianity in Algeria, while noting less
enlightened views within parts of the Islamic community and
leadership. Reflecting this duality, the American pastor
experienced an outpouring of Muslim support after he was
stabbed (ref A) outside his home in January, in what appeared
to be a religiously motivated attack.


OUTSIDE MEDIA AND INTERNAL ACCEPTANCE FUEL CHANGE


--------------------------



--------------------------





4. (SBU) According to the Archbishop and the Pastor,
several factors accounted for greater acceptance of
conversions to Christianity. First, the sheer number of
conversions made the practice more acceptable. In some small
villages in the Kabylie, for example, entire families have
converted, making up to fifty percent of the village
Christian. Second, Algerians themselves were converting
Algerians, so the stigma of foreign interference dissipated.
Finally, the availability of Bibles and the rise in the
number of Christian-themed television and radio broadcasts
available via satellite TV, such as Radio Monte Carlo, was
apparent. There were also religious broadcasts in Tamazight
from Cyprus and Malaga, Spain. As an example of just how
acceptable Christianity had become, the Archbishop recounted
a story of a Muslim woman who went out of her way to proudly
introduce her cousin and inform the Archbishop that she was
Christian.


BERBERS CONVERT MORE THAN ARABS AND FOR CULTURAL REASONS


--------------------------



--------------------------





5. (SBU) The Pastor believed there was a difference between
Arab and Berber motives for conversion. Berbers motives
were more complex and rooted in a mixture of rejecting the
violence of Islamic extremists and attempts to "Arabize"
Berber culture. Converting to Christianity was also a form
of social and economic protest against a Muslim governing
system that had left the Kabylie one of the poorest, most
disaffected regions in the country. At a deeper level,
Berbers were acknowledging the failures of the current system
and returning to their pre-Islamic roots and Christian
heritage. (St. Augustine was a Berber of the 4th century.)
Even today, Christian symbols that have lost their religious
meaning for most Kabylies appear on bread, entryways,
jewelry, and embroidery. For Arabs, on the other hand, it
was a question of spirituality based more in adopting the
ideas of the religion itself and less in its cultural
aspects. He added that the number of Berber conversions far
outpaced the number of Arab conversions.


PRESS COVERAGE OF RISE IN CONVERSIONS TO CHRISTIANITY


--------------------------



--------------------------





6. (U) A five-page article appeared in Jeune
Afrique/L'Intelligent of May 21 entitled, "Jesus Christ on
Algerian Soil." Citing UN statistics, the article said
approximately 10,000 Catholics and 5,000-20,000 Protestants
were present in Algeria in 2002, but the author claimed the
numbers were now dramatically higher due to the many "house
churches". These small churches operated usually from
individual homes without GOA registration. Religious
messages and Bibles were increasingly available in Berber,
French and Arabic.



7. (U) According to the article, the rise in Christianity
was not confined to the Berber Kabylie region but was
nationwide, including a large group in Oran. Further, the
article agreed with the American Pastor's conclusion that
Algerians, many of whom had no contact with American or
European evangelists, were converting other Algerians. In
several cases, individuals converted family members to
Christianity because of its peaceful teachings and message of
hope.


GOVERNMENT REACTION GENERALLY MIXED


--------------------------





8. (SBU) GOA reaction to the rise in Christianity has been
mixed. Although the article in Jeune Afrique commented on
how the Algerian Police dealt positively with the Christian
community, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Bouabdellah
Ghoulamallah, was more negative during a radio interview:
"Christians are more than welcomed to practice their faith in
Algeria, but I know that some churches are behaving like
sects and this is what we can not tolerate....Sects have no
future in Algeria, and although we are at the observation
stage, we are in the process of elaborating a national
strategy against this dangerous form of proselytism, bearing
in mind at the same time that we have to respect our
Constitution."



9. (SBU) Ministry of Religious Affairs Director for Koranic
teaching, Dr. Mohammed Aissa, told POLOFF that the GOA
favored religious diversity and was not at all concerned
about the rise in Christianity. However, he was concerned
that some people in Algeria who did not like the current
trend might take matters into their own hands. His concerns
regarding Christian conversions were based on potential
social problems, and conversions involving manipulation. He
had no quarrel with Christians, or with Christian churches
registered with the GOA, but was concerned that unregistered
churches acted outside the societal bounds that officially
recognized churches followed. He clarified that registered
Christian churches in Algeria were totally autonomous from
the Ministry and had more latitude for their sermons than
mosques, which were given general guidelines from the
Ministry.



10. (SBU) During an interview on April 3, the reaction from
President of the High Islamic Council Cheikh Bouamrane was
not as positive. In reference to the rise in conversions to
Christianity in the Kabylie region, Bouamrane questioned why,
when the GOA had proof that an evangelization campaign
existed, the MFA and MOI had not withdrawn the authorization
given to the "neo-conservative church" in Tizi Ouzou, or
deported foreigners involved in proselytizing. He also
contended that the church misrepresented the image of Islam
and has spread hostile discourse against the Algerian state.
Bouamarane confirmed that the High Islamic Council sent a
delegation to Kabylie to investigate the situation and would
submit a report to Bouteflika.



11. (SBU) An American who resided in Algeria and ran a small
business with his wife, was arrested and deported in May (ref
B). Although no official reason for the deportation was
given, there are indications he was deported for alleged
proselytizing. The American told Conoff that he had
distributed several Bibles to friends, at their request.
Algerian officials told the American's wife to make
arrangements to close the business and depart Algeria, as her
visa would not be renewed. She has since left Algeria but
officials made her departure difficult. The officials
confiscated her residency permit, refused her an exit visa,
and wanted her to sign a document referring to a decision by
the MOI regarding her departure (she was not permitted to see
the decision from the MOI). She was finally allowed to leave
the country without signing the document by showing a copy of
her residency permit to another official.

AVAILABILITY OF OUTSIDE RESOURCES


--------------------------





12. (U) Three of the main Christian-themed broadcasts
available via satellite were French-language Radio Monte
Carlo, Cairo-based Arabic-language Al-Haya TV, and
French/German TV channel ARTE. Another influence, available
with the help of technology, was a French-language internet
forum on conversion to Christianity, which was popular in the
Kabylie region. In addition to the influences from
technological advances, there were also two Bible stores
operating in the capital, which offer Christian literature in
a variety of languages.






ERDMAN