Friday, September 14, 2012

Turmoil in the Middle East spreads

(File photos courtesy SAT-7)

Middle East (MNN/SAT7) ―Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has called for a nationwide peaceful demonstration today to condemn insults to Prophet Mohammad from an amateurish film.

The announcement followed the attacks against U.S. Embassies in Libya and Egypt. Demonstrators also attacked the U.S. embassies in Yemen and Egypt (again) on Thursday. The spreading turmoil was a response to a film they consider blasphemous to Islam.

An investigation has begun into the events surrounding Tuesday's attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Eight Libyans were injured in that violence.

Protests also erupted in Iraq and Iran, as students in Tehran protested outside the Swiss embassy. In Bangladesh, Islamists tried to march on the U.S. embassy in Dhaka but were turned back by police. There were also reported protests at U.S. missions in Tunisia, Sudan, and Morocco.

The film may have been the vehicle used to stir up tensions, especially in light of the September 11 anniversary. SAT-7 CEOTerry Ascott says, "That reaction is inflamed by people who have a vested interest, like Al Qaeda, in exploiting people's anger at the West. It's a bit of a coincidence, one might say, that this flared up all within hours in Egypt, in Yemen, in Libya, in other places. It seems somewhat orchestrated."

Security was being increased at U.S. diplomatic stations around the globe, but what about ministries? "There have been specific threats against, for example, Egyptian Christians in Yemen and churches and Christians, in general...anyone who is a ‘cross worshipper,' as they say in the street."

Ascott goes on to say, "It's not the people that are making the movies or the cartoons in the Western world that pay the price for their enjoyment of free speech. It is the Christians in the Middle East that bear the brunt of the reaction that inevitably comes."

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it's a common belief that Christianity is a Western religion. Therefore, when trouble occurs similar to what's happened this week, entities with Western connections are targeted, and that includes ministries.

SAT-7 has an office in Cairo. When asked if there was a contingency plan for the staff, Ascott first said, "We do have heavy fences and cameras and security people around our building, but it certainly would not be enough if a mob decided to attack the building."

However, Ascott went on to explain that they're also being vigilant. "If there are signs of trouble, we would try to evacuate our staff from the premises before that got out of hand. But we don't have armed guards on the building to protect it from a riot."

Still, the staff is putting together programs that will address much of what has happened this week in the region.

Interestingly, the SAT-7 ARABIC team had already begun a series of programs called Forbidden, which address issues relevant to North Africa. Presenter Emad D. is a Tunisian poet and pastor. The inspiration for the program comes from John 11:35, "Jesus wept." Emad wants to show the Arab world that Jesus cares about them and weeps over them.

Emad hopes to use testimonies to demonstrate that the Church is spreading all over the world, and longs to see equality between people of all religions--with more respect for new believers. Ascott states that the program aims to overcome negative perceptions of the Church.

Another team is doing a live show on Saturday. Ascott says, "In the situation with the Middle East where there are so many agendas, so many tensions between so many different groups, we're trying to bring reconciliation through better understanding, advocacy of forgiveness, and so on--some of the things that are unique in the Christian Gospel."

Pray wisdom for the production teams. Pray for safety for the staff. Pray for peace to return. Pray for open hearts.

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