Population: 10.7 million (24,000 Christians)
Main Religion: Islam
Source of Persecution: Islamic extremism
Under former President Ben Ali, Tunisia was a secular country in which timid expressions of Christianity were tolerated. Now, Christians face increasing persecution from the moderately Islamic government and from aggressive Salafist groups. Expat churches face few problems, but local Muslim-background believers face pressure from society, and may be questioned and beaten once their conversion is known. The secular legal system remains in place, but the government is moving towards implementing Islamic law. Despite the increasing pressure, the small indigenous church is growing slowly.
- Radical Muslims are returning to the country and spreading extremist messages. Pray that their influence will not spread
- The economy is in a bad state and unemployment is growing. Pray for wisdom for the government
- Importation of Christian books in the Arabic language is obstructed. Ask God to protect Open Doors co-workers distributing Bibles in the country.
[For current news in Tunisia go to Tunisia Live – click here.]
Tunisian Christians experience increasing pressure at the private and family level and pressure is clearly greater for those who come to Christ from a Muslim background than for the few expat churches. The secular legal system remains in place, but this is likely to change as the country’s Islamic government is taking steps towards the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law). Although the constitution currently respects freedom of religion, importing Christian books is obstructed, national churches cannot register and local Christians are questioned and beaten once their conversion is known.
Tunisia needs a new political system; the economy is in a bad state, unemployment is growing and tourism levels have dropped. Radical Muslims are returning to the country and spreading extremist messages. The rise of Salafism is also a stressful development for many believers. With political developments looking grim and Islamic movements getting stronger, the situation of the small Christian population in the country has deteriorated and is not expected to improve. However, on a positive note, the small indigenous church seems to be growing slowly.
CHANGES SINCE ARAB SPRING: (Open Doors US)
Things have changed in Tunisia after the Arab Spring first erupted in this North-African country. Dictator Ben Ali is gone and the elections were held with a landslide win for the Islamists. Christians see a greater spiritual openness than ever before in the country, and see discipleship as the principal need at this moment.
The Tunisian Church has already been changing for the last fifteen years. Till the end of last century, there were only house groups of Christians active in this North-African country. Now churches choose to be visible. Last year the church especially grew outside the capital Tunis.
“Coming more to the surface seems to have strengthened the Christians,” explains an Open Doors field worker. Self-awareness grew and the level of fear went down. Now you can see during the Saturday services interested people coming in from the street, attracted by curiosity of what is going on in the churches. We see Church engaging with society. Groups of Christians meet in several smaller cities in Tunisia.” Tunisian Christians see a strong response to the gospel. “I heard of people accepting Christ while escaping teargas,” the field worker. says.
We also spoke with Raatib*, a Christian that doesn’t hide his faith. Raatib is discipling two groups of young Christians in two different cities. He travels a great distance to these places to be able to give the training to the new believers. He is using Open Doors training material. “The church needs discipleship in any way or form, it is by far the most prevalent need for the church,” he says with conviction.
Raatib* – not his real name for security reasons.