Amid a complicated diplomatic situation in Algeria, evangelicals call on the EU to “push for increased freedom of religion” in the country.
“We want to have the same relations with Algeria of mutual respect and non-interference that we have with all our neighbours, just as we do not want the solid relationship we are building with Morocco, which benefits Spain, and especially Andalusia, to be an obstacle to the relationship we have with Algeria”, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares.
One of Algeria's immediate responses to the Spanish support for Morocco on the Saharan issue was to block Spanish foreign trade bank accounts in the northern African country.
Although the Algerian government lifted the blockade shortly after a month, data from the Secretary of State for Trade show a 71% drop in Spanish sales in Algeria since the beginning of the crisis.
So far, the two countries have not resolved their diplomatic differences.
The Spanish government is urgently seeking alternative gas suppliers to Russia because of the conflict in Ukraine, and is encountering France's refusal of the MidCat gas pipeline project, designed to transport this natural resource from the Iberian Peninsula to northern Europe.
Religious freedom in Algeria has worsened in recent years, with organisations such as the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Open Doors denouncing the closure of churches throughout the country. The WEA has even taken the situation to the UN Human Rights Council.
“Before the pandemic, the government had already closed many churches, arguing that they did not comply with the regulations for a meeting hall”, says an Algerian Christian who has lived in Spain for years and who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons.
He explains that “in Algeria, the church has built premises like everyone else, and has also adapted the places of worship it obtained by renting. But it seems that it was only the church that did not comply with the regulations”.
”The church reached out to resolve the issue by telling the government to give them a regulation to comply with, but the government's response has been to close the doors”, he adds.
Although Spain's position seems weakened for its northern neighbours, the WEA's representative at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Wissam al-Saliby, believes that “Spain, and the EU, should push for increased freedom of religion and the rule of law whereby all citizens are treated equally, in Algeria and in all North African countries”.
Furthermore, they also “should commit in their bilateral agreements with Algeria and with Morocco to pursue respect for human rights”.
Al-Saliby confirms that “in Algeria, we have dozens of churches forcibly closed or threatened with closure. Pastors and Christians are harassed including through court cases for 'unauthorized non-Muslim worship””.
“That is unacceptable. The Algerian government has not given any authorization for non-Muslim worship to date, despite requests from the Protestant Church of Algeria and from individual churches”, he adds.
Spain has not yet convinced the Algerian ambassador to return to Madrid after he left the country. Moreover, the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation, which governed bilateral relations between the two countries, is still suspended by Algiers.
The biggest problem is the situation with Morocco. For years, the two North African neighbours have been experiencing constant tensions, which have not even been relieved by the latest change of government in Morocco.
However, the restoration of diplomatic relations between Rabat and Israel, following Donald Trump's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara in December 2020, has been a key element to increase the distance between the two states.
Although Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate between Rabat and Algiers, the Algerian government will not give in on its conditions: Morocco must renounce any military and security cooperation with Israel.
“The relationship between Morocco and Israel and its consequences on Western Sahara, as well as the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian cause within the framework of the normalization of Arab countries, will draw the contours of the new Arab world”, pointed out Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra.
The Algerian Christian who lives in Spain explains that, “for five or six decades, relations between Algeria and Morocco have been distant, despite their geographical proximity. All of this is due to the Sahara issue and the Polisario Front”.
“This means that the enemy of my friend is my enemy, so that Algeria has broken agreements with Spain because of the Sahara”, he underlines .
According to this source, who has a deep knowledge of the situation in Algeria and often travels to the country, “[the Algerian government] must start to be self-critical, understanding what is failing in order to correct it, instead of seeing enemies everywhere, blaming Morocco and Israel for the political instability”.
“The EU has dialogues on political, security and human rights issues with each state with whom they have a association agreement, including Algeria. I hope and pray that the values of human rights and freedom of religion and of conscience are put high in the priorities of these dialogues”, stresses Al-Saliby.
That is also the desire of the Algerian Christian living in Spain: “I would like to say that [the negotiation process] could have an effect on religious freedom in the country. But I'm afraid it won't with the current government”.
However, he is hopeful about the resilience of the church in his country, because “people don't believe anything anymore. You can no longer solve things with blows, nor with imprisonment because an Algerian says what he thinks and believes. A government will never uproot faith in Jesus from the hearts of Algerians”.