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Libya

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Islamist militants seized and tortured 50 Christians in the Libyan city of Benghazi
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Dennixo

It is becoming increasingly clear that Christianity is no more welcome in Libya after the Arab Spring than under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi before it. The churches are composed almost entirely of expatriate Christians, but many have left in the face of violent attacks and the growing strength of both political and militant Islamism.

On 24 February 2014, the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians were found on a beach on the outskirts of Benghazi. They had been rounded up by a group of suspected Islamists the night before, taken away at gunpoint and shot dead. The masked assailants raided the building in which the Egyptians lived, going door-to-door asking if the residents were Christian or Muslim before abducting the seven Christians, who were aged 17-25.

The very small number of indigenous believers, who are converts from Islam, suffer intense pressure from their families and communities and are severely isolated. Evangelism among Muslims continues to be prohibited in practice.

In 2013, around 50 Egyptian Christians were arrested in the Libyan city of Benghazi on accusations of sharing their faith. They were initially seized by Islamist militants, who shaved their heads and tortured them with beatings and electric shocks. One of them later died in prison. Their church was also attacked twice and their minister beaten up.

Although the Islamist Justice and Construction Party performed only moderately in the first general election in 2012, they have since been gathering support, and they played a decisive role in the selection of Libya’s prime minister. Meanwhile, North Africa is now troubled by numerous militias, armed and mobile, who are seeking to seize control of whole areas by military means. A growing Islamist insurgency is threatening Libya’s fragile security, and the government appears powerless to dislodge the militants from their strongholds in the east of the country. It has also proved unable to prevent attacks by Islamists on Christians and other minorities.

Libya was once a major seedbed for Islam in Africa, but the Islam that it promoted under Gaddafi was not extreme. However, there are now serious concerns that future political developments will see Islamists gain the ascendancy, leading to even greater oppression of Libya’s Christians.

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