The stakes have been raised for Christian satellite broadcasting in the Arab world.
On November 28, a Cairo court sentenced to death Nakhoula Basilli Nakhoula and six other Coptic Christians—who all live outside Egypt—for their alleged roles in producing The Innocence of Muslims. The film, which mocks the Prophet Muhammad, prompted violent protests worldwide.
Nakhoula is relatively safe since he and the Way, the satellite channel that broadcasted the film, are based in the United States. But the sentence drew attention to how such channels have proliferated in recent years, seeking to present the gospel to Arab Muslims by—in part—directly criticizing Islam.
"Since satellite TV is widespread across the Middle East and is uncensorable, it is obviously a key way to make the good news of the gospel available," said Terence Ascott, CEO and founder of SAT-7.
The evangelical channel, which has broadcast from Cairo and Beirut since 1996, has a policy to never attack other faiths. "Exposing the faults of another person's belief system is best done face to face in love," said Ascott. "To do it through a broadcast can often lead to a negative reaction by viewers, and … local Christians and churches then pay the price."
"Outside Egypt, channels have freedom and use it without limits," said senior producer Sherif Wahba. "But we [Egyptian Christians] are the ones who get blamed."
This claim is rejected by newer channels that challenge Islam directly. "It is ridiculous to say this, because there has been persecution in these areas long before we did our work," said Abu Ali, director of the Life, based outside the Middle East.