Religious freedoms have been witnessing further restrictions in recent years in Maghreb communities, mirroring the degree and level of pressure which has been exercised by political Islamic movements in each of the Maghreb countries.
Given the fact that these Islamist movements target the governing political systems and seek to take them down by questioning their legitimacy, they are making major efforts to mobilize large groups of people in order to support them in putting more pressure on the ruling systems either to weaken them, and then organize a coup against them and establish alternative political systems with names such as “Islamic caliphate”, “Islamic system”, or “Caliphate State”, etc.; or to force the governing systems to adopt “Islamic issues” from the angle that those religious movements want. In light of the struggle for legitimacy between Islamist movements and ruling regimes, competition is getting increasingly intense over the popular affection and emotional baggage, and so does auction over the exploitation of religion by both sides, each for their own interests.
Islamist movements present themselves as the guardians of religion who are eager to apply its teachings, and even as the placeholders of God in terms of managing religious and daily affairs of His creatures through the enforcement of His legislation; while the ruling regimes, in the light of political and social conflicts, are keen to persuade citizens that religious issues are an integral part of their job, if not one of their priority concerns. In this context, comes for example the Algerian authority’s campaign against the Christian missionaries when the Religious Affairs Minister Abu Abdullah Ghulam Allah accused them of infiltration and referred to them as “infiltrators who are seeking to demolish and dismember Algerian society, just like terrorists”. He also instigated all citizens against the missionaries, claiming that “neo-evangelists infiltrated the community aiming only at wrecking it and tearing it apart, which requires confronting them and fighting them relentlessly.”
The Minister of Religious Affairs is only reflecting the policy of the government to which he belongs, and which either tries some of the missionaries, like Ms. Habiba Kouider and others, or expels them from Algeria according to the law issued by the government in February 2006. The Algerian government is forced to practice such harassment on missionaries to leave no room for Islamists to accuse it of failing to protect religion. The rest of the Arab Maghreb countries are no different in terms of cracking down on Christian missionaries. It should be noted that Maghreb peoples have coexisted for centuries with people from other monotheistic religions, Jews and Christians alike.
“Mellah” quarters still exist in many Moroccan cities for instance, as proof of the co-existence between Moroccan Jews and Muslim citizens. This coexistence resulted from the genuine culture of the Moroccan and Maghreb peoples. The Moroccan monarchy has had no segregationist position against Jewish citizens; it even integrated them in the State, as evidenced by the appointment by King Mohammed VI of a Jewish advisor, André Azoulay. The King kept Azoulay among his staff despite the hostility expressed by Islamists towards the latter; the Islamists actually never hesitate to express their feelings towards Azoulay whenever they have the opportunity to, using the obscene slogan: “What a shame! The royal advisor is a Jew!”, as if Jewish citizens have no right to citizenship. In order to overcome the restrictions on religious freedoms that the Maghreb governments resort to in order to compete with Islamists in protecting religion, and in order to cut short the exploitation of Islamist organizations of the emotional baggage of all citizens whom they dupe into thinking that Islam is being threatened by missionaries’ campaigns; Maghreb governments should undertake the following steps:
1)- Creating an explicit constitutional text that guarantees the freedom of belief for all citizens, as well as the protection of religious freedoms of minorities.
2)- Protecting places of worship from all assault or violation, and including them in the scope of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to benefit from the budget of this government sector, both in terms of restoration and equipment.
3)- Adopting a jurisprudence which respects people of monotheistic religions, and which does not attack their beliefs nor accuses them of blasphemy and misguidance in media, educational, and religious programs, as well as in Friday sermons.
4)- Issuing laws that punish whomever attacks monotheistic beliefs or instigates people against the followers of those beliefs, from any religion.
5)- Repealing legal provisions that constrain the freedom of belief, and that are incompatible with the international charters and covenants on human rights.
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