Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Dark days for Christians in Morocco

A spate of deportations marks a tougher stance toward Christians in once-tolerant Morocco.

Catholics pray in Saint Pierre Cathedral in Rabat, Nov. 12, 2008. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

PARIS, France — The days of Christians in Morocco may be numbered.

A wave of so-called “proselytizing,” that has reportedly converted tens of thousands Muslims into Christians, has prompted authorities to clamp down on Christian residents.

Over the last several weeks, more than 50 Christians from the U.S., the Netherlands and South Korea have been deported by Moroccan authorities. Some long-time Christian residents were not allowed back in the country.

The most high-profile operation took place in an orphanage called the Village of Hope, when 16 foreign Christians running the center were told they had two hours to pack up and leave the country. Kids they cared for cried, not understanding why their “parents” were being taken away.

The orphanage had been operating for 10 years without any problems. What changed? Authorities appeared to be reacting to claims made by an extremist imam, who accused the orphanage of not respecting adoption procedures.

In most deportation cases, authorities don't even give a reason, though it's usually clear that those being deported are suspected of proselytizing. In fact, the proselytizing charge applies only to non-Muslims.

Even though Morocco is a much more tolerant country than, say, Saudi Arabia in terms of freedom of religion, it nonetheless imprisons anyone trying to “shake the faith of Muslims” for up to three years.

The timing of this clampdown may prove to taint Morocco's image for some time to come, given that it took place during the first summit between the European Union and Morocco pertaining to a renewal of ties, and also while U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Sam Kaplan, was preparing his annual human rights report. Unsurprisingly the report stated that the embassy was “disheartened and distressed” about the expulsions.

A similar, though smaller, clampdown took place in 2005. The Moroccan press warned of the “greatest danger”: American evangelical missionaries allegedly going around the country, from major cities such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and Fez to remote areas in the mountains or the countryside, to convert Muslims.

Why is Morocco developing a harder stance toward Christians? King Mohamed VI is responding to the pressure of not only Islamists but also from other conservative parties.