Ballot-Box Victories In Algeria

The growing political power of Islam in newly democratic African and Middle Eastern nations was demonstrated last December by a victory of Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria. Islamic candidates there won apparent control of Algeria’s 430-seat National Assembly after winning 188 seats in the nation’s first free parliamentary elections. Candidates of the Islamic Salvation Front (ISA) said their goal was a total revamping of the nation’s secular constitution to create a fundamentalist, Islamic state.

The victories prompted the resignation of the nation’s president, Chadli Benjedid, who was replaced by a military-backed ruling council. The council outraged Islamic leaders by calling off a second round of elections, scheduled for mid-January, which was sure to give the ISA a majority.

More than 200,000 Algerians demonstrated against the ISA on January 2. But the ISA’s posturing as champion of the poor has made it increasingly popular in an economically troubled nation.

The fundamentalists’ victory in Algeria worries many in neighboring Morocco and Tunisia, where Islam enjoys strong appeal among the poor masses.

Indonesian Government Courts Muslims

Christians have been facing discrimination in recent months since Indonesian President Suharto began courting Muslim support to counter waning support among his military, according to National & International Religion Report.

The government recently banned Christian meetings in hundreds of house churches around Djakarta until after the June election. Among other actions, courses on Christianity also have been removed from public schools, despite their high demand.

Suharto and his Catholic wife recently made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and reports indicate that Indonesians seeking consideration for some government positions must also make a pilgrimage.

Around The World …

Israeli prolifers organize

Abortion opponents in Israel recently formed that country’s first prolife group, according to the Messianic Times, a Toronto-based publication. The group, Be’ad Chaim, translated “prolife,” will focus on education as a means to counter abortion.

Prior to 1978, Israel had no laws limiting abortion and currently allows abortions in several instances. About 60,000 abortions are performed yearly in Israel, says Ted Walker, chief administrator of Be’ad Chaim. Since 1948, when Israel became a nation, more than one million abortions have occurred.

Hungary Reconsiders Law

Hungary’s Constitutional Court recently told its Parliament to draft a new, and very likely more restrictive, abortion law by next December. The action wasspurred by a more vocal Roman Catholic church, a government sympathetic to Christianity, and a rapidly declining population. But observers say the deadline may be unrealistic in a country that currently has one of the most lenient abortion policies worldwide.

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As recently as 1969, abortions outnumbered live births in Hungary by 34 percent, according to an article in the New York Times.

Doctors Tighten Code

Poland’s Congress of Physicians ended two days of debate in December by voting 449 to 75 to toughen its ethics code concerning abortions. The new code takes effect in May and says abortions may only be performed to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape.

The decision represents a dramatic turn in the country’s policy, spurred by the advent of democracy and rise in power of the Roman Catholic church. In 1990, Polish doctors performed more than 70 abortions for every 100 live births.


The Mexican Congress voted in late December to end a century-long ban on religious organizations. Previously, any religious group, including Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, was not officially legal, though in day-to-day practice government officials ignored the law.

Last month each of Mexico’s 32 states voted on the amendments to the Constitution, which already had been signed by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Passage by all the states is required and was expected, after which the new laws will go into effect, says Elizabeth Isais of the Latin America Mission in Mexico.

Churches now will be able to own property, and priests and pastors will be able to wear clerical dress and vote. Clergy will not, however, be allowed to run for public office in the country, which is about 90 percent Roman Catholic but has a growing evangelical population, estimated at 10 million. Salinas, in the third year of his six-year term, is credited with leading the drive to lift the ban via his ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

‘Expert’ Has Record Of Fraud

Ory Mazar came billed as a “well-known historian,” a Christian convert, and the author and editor of over 40 books. On tours of Israel, the son of famous archaeologist Benjamin Mazar dazzled American Christians with his government connections. But recent investigations have revealed that most of Mazar’s claims are false and that his past includes a criminal record for fraud. Apparently prompted by the revelations, he has fled to Israel.

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In the late 1980s, Mazar’s reputation grew quickly throughout churches in the Southwest. Together with his son Dan, he established the Jerusalem Bible Institute in the San Diego area. The pair traveled widely, presenting archaeology lectures in churches. In late 1989, Mazar led several hundred American Christians on a tour of Israel, which he advertised as being subsidized by the Israeli government. Red-carpet treatment included special treatment at customs and meetings with government officials.

The following year Mazar brought a group of clergymen to Washington, to meet with senators Jesse Helms, Charles Robb, Albert Gore, Robert Packwood, and others, including Dan Quayle’s adviser, Jon Glassman. In the meetings, Mazar claimed the backing of 50 million Christians as he pushed for loan guarantees for Israel.

But Mazar’s story began to unravel last year when a Jewish newspaper in San Diego investigated his background. After running a favorable piece about the Jerusalem Bible Institute on May 18, 1991, Herb Brin, editor of the Heritage, began getting calls about Mazar’s fund-raising tactics and criminal record. On July 12, after a three-month investigation, Brin published an exposé of Mazar entitled “Web of Deception.”

The article cited FBI records of Mazar’s convictions for mail fraud in Texas and Ohio. Mazar was also accused of using the tax-exempt number of another organization, the Messengers of Messiah, without its permission.

In response, Mazar, who claimed to have served with Israeli intelligence, said the criminal record was the work of the CIA.

Mazar also claims authorship of The Pharaohs of Egypt, The Hittites, and Crete, from “Newman House” and Lincoln and the Civil War published by “Messada Press,” among other works. A thorough check of book and library databases shows no trace of these titles nor Mazar as their author.

Following publication of the Heritage article, Ory Mazar stepped aside, claiming health problems, and Benjamin Mazar took over as the Jerusalem Bible Institute’s president. Ory and Dan Mazar then launched the Christian Heritage Review, a national magazine dealing with archaeology. Newspaper advertisements and telemarketers sought to recruit “regional distributors” to sell ad space in the magazine.

Promotional materials promised monthly incomes up to $45,600, but there was a catch: it cost up to $4,875 to secure distribution privileges. Seventy directors signed up nationwide. One director found that his district had also been sold to someone else. Others got word of Mazar’s criminal past and demanded their money back.

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In December the Mazars conducted another pilgrimage to Israel and have yet to return, leaving behind disillusioned staff and bills in excess of $150,000. Peter Michas, head of Messengers of Messiah, believes they may have gotten away with as much as $2 million.

By K. L. Billingsley in San Diego.

Presbyterians Endorse Lesbian As Pastor

The first openly homosexual person ever invited to serve a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has survived a first round of challenges, but officials say the fight is far from over.

By a vote of 105 to 66, Presbyterian leaders in upstate New York rejected a demand that they rescind their previous endorsement of Jane Spahr of Oakland to serve as one of four copastors at Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester.

The 49-year-old Spahr, who currently directs a church-related, social-service agency that serves the gay and lesbian community in Oakland, says she is in a committed relationship with another woman.

Opponents of Spahr’s call had filed complaints with both the presbytery and the Synod of the Northeast, the next highest authority. National Presbyterian leaders believe the challenge to Spahr will probably remain unsettled until it makes its way to the highest possible level—the judicial commission of the general assembly.

Religious News Service.

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