Reaching the Nations

Regional Profile - Middle East and North Africa

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 15,226,838 square km.  Spanning the northern portion of Africa, the Arabia Peninsula, Iran, Anatolia, and Cyprus, the Middle East and North Africa primarily consists of hot, arid deserts bisected by large rivers and punctuated by pockets of wetter, more fertile areas that experience Mediterranean climate.  Major seas and bodies of water include the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Black Sea, Arabian Sea, Aegean Sea, Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Dead Sea, Lake Van, and Lake Urmia.  Major rivers such as the Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile offer sustenance to local populations, moderate local climate, and produce excellent agricultural conditions in the valleys.  Notable deserts include the Arabian and Sahara Deserts.  Other large deserts occupy vast areas of Iran and the Near East.  Large mountain ranges are concentrated in the Near East, Morocco, Algeria, Iran, and Turkey and include the Lebanon, Albortz, Zagros, Atlas, and Ahaggar Ranges.   Dust storms, drought, flooding, and earthquakes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include desertification, oil spills, pollution, deforestation, overgrazing, soil degradation, water scarcity, and reliance on desalinating sea water to meet fresh water needs.  

Peoples

Arab and Arab-Berber mix: 58%

Turkish: 11%

Persian: 8%

Kurd: 5%

Azeri: 4%

other/unknown: 14%

Population: 503,117,127 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.8% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 2.85 (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 70.89 male, 74.95 female (2011)

Languages: Arabic dialects (56%), Turkish (9%), Farsi (4.4%), Kurdish (3.1%), Berber languages (2.5%), Azerbaijani (2.2%), other or unknown (22.8%).  Arabic dialects are the most widely spoken languages in the region and are the official languages of every nation in the Middle East and North Africa with only a few exceptions.  Languages with over ten million speakers include Arabic (281 million), Turkish (46.5 million), Farsi (22 million), Kurdish (15.7 million), Berber languages (12.6 million), and Azerbaijani (11.2 million). 

Literacy: 50.2-97.6% (country average: 78.6%)

History

Many of the world's oldest and most technologically advanced civilizations during ancient times thrived in the Middle East and North Africa notwithstanding the wide expanses of desert and harsh living conditions.  Many nation states and kingdoms were established in fertile areas with modified climate from large rivers or nearby seashore, such as the Nile River delta, Mesopotamia, and isolated regions along the the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.  Syria's present-day capital Damascus was founded at about 2500 B.C. and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities.  In Egypt, a unified kingdom arose as early as 3200 BC and maintained control of Egypt until conquered by the Persians in 341 BC.  Various ancient civilizations flourished in the Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans.  Cuneiform is the oldest known form of ancient writing which was etched on clay tablets in the region as early as four millennia before the birth of Christ.  Many innovations of early civilization derive from this region.  Phoenician seafarers and tradesmen established colonies and cities along the North African coast during the second and first millennia before Christ.  Formerly known as Persia, some of the longest inhabited cities in the world which date back several millennia BC are found in Iran.  The Medes and Persians unified into the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire by the sixth century BC, which at its height ruled from Egypt to Southeastern Europe on the east and to Afghanistan on the west.  The Carthaginians ruled much of North Africa from the seventh century until conquered by the Romans in the second century B.C.  Additional notable ancient civilizations which ruled portions of the Middle East and Anatolia at one time or another include Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Phrygians, Hebrews, Arameans, and Mycenaean Greeks.  The Greeks and later Romans annexed much of North Africa and the Middle East during the centuries before and after the birth of Christ. 

Known as the "Promised Land" of the Jewish people, Israel numbers among the oldest inhabited nations in the known world.  The Kingdom of Israel was established likely around the eleventh century before Christ and divided into two kingdoms (Judah and Israel).  The Assyrians and later Babylonians invaded the region, with the later taking captive the remaining Jews to Mesopotamia until their return decades later.  Christianity began in Israel in the first century A.D and the majority of Christ's ministry occurred in present-day Israel.  Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul, received his vision of Christ on the road to Damascus as recorded the New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles.  The early Christian Church had connections to Cyprus, which served as a crossroads for apostles on missionary journeys throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  The Romans subdued Jewish revolts in the first century B.C. and ultimately relocated most of the Jewish population elsewhere in the Roman World, leading to the Diaspora of Jewish peoples throughout North Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. 

The Parthian Empire emerged in the third century BC in Iran and ruled until the third century AD, holding off Roman advances in the region for several hundred years.  Vandal and Visigoth invasions and the collapse of Rome in the fifth century A.D. led to sporadic independence and self rule for many areas of North Africa, punctuated by Vandal raids and the expansion of the Byzantine Empire which at its height ruled nearly all coastal areas of the Middle East and North Africa and most of Anatolia by the sixth century.  The advent of Islam in the early seventh century in the Arabian Peninsula resulted in the rapid spread of the religion throughout nearly the entire region in only a couple centuries time and severely crippled the power of the Byzantine Empire and significantly reduced its territorial claims.  Arabs spread the Arabic language throughout the region and significantly influenced local cultural customs and practices, but encountered stiff resistance in Mauritania among local African tribes and Bafours.  The Omayyad Empire based its capital in Damascus and at its peak stretched from Spain to India from 661 to 750.  The Sassanid Empire ruled until the seventh century in Iran when Islam was introduced and superseded the previously dominant Zoroastrian religion.  The Muslim Moors fought with Spain for control of the southern Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages and Spain attempted to expand its influence in Morocco thereafter.  Additional civilizations which ruled areas of the Middle East following the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the region include the Sassanids and Qarmatians.  Various Christian crusader states were established in Palestine during the middle ages, but were eventually overrun. 

The Mongols invaded northern areas of the Middle East in the thirteenth century.  Based in Constantinople [Istanbul], the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and ruled nearly the entire Middle East and North Africa region, stretching from Hungary, southeastern Europe, and coastal areas of the Black Sea to the north, coastal areas of North Africa and the Red Sea to the south, and the Near East and Iraq to the east.  The Portuguese ruled the eastern portions of the Arabian Peninsula for 150 years from the sixteenth to late seventeenth centuries.  The introduction of square rigged heavily armed ships instead of galleys by Captain Jack Ward, an English privateer and Islamic convert turned pirate who operated from Tunis, provided the Barbary Pirates with technological superiority that facilitated their domination of the Western Mediterranean for nearly two centuries until the early nineteenth century.  Barbary Pirates operating from bases in Algeria and Tunisia captured thousands of ships and raided long segments of the Spanish and Italian coasts; an estimated 1-1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by the Barbary Pirates. 

European influence superseded that of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as France conquered or was assigned League of Nations trusteeship over much of North Africa and Syria whereas Iraq and Transjordan [Israel, Palestine, and Jordan] were placed under League of Nations mandate to the United Kingdom following World War I.  In the nineteenth century, the British gained control of Cyprus, Qatar, Sudan, and South Yemen, France annexed Mauritania, and Spain claimed Spanish Sahara [Western Sahara].  In 1869, the Suez Canal began trafficking ships from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, drastically reducing travel times from Europe to Asia and increasing trade and commerce.  The British took control of Egypt in 1882.  Starting in 1899, Kuwait signed a treaty with the British which gave the British control of foreign relations and defense.  Following World War I, France gained control of Lebanon from the Ottoman Empire and separated it from Syria.  Italy invaded Libya in 1911 and made it a colony.  Italy retained control of Libya until Italian forces were defeated by Allied powers in 1943 during World War II.  In Iran, the Qajar dynasty began in 1725 and endured until 1925, followed by the Pahlavi dynasty from 1925 to 1979.  European colonialism never occurred in Persia, however, wars were fought with Russia and the British.

Nearly all present-day nations in the Middle East and North Africa became independent, sovereign nations during the twentieth century.  Independence was achieved for North Yemen from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Egypt from the United Kingdom in 1922, Turkey as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Iraq from the United Kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia following the unification of various Saudi states in 1932, Lebanon from France in 1943, Jordan from the United Kingdom in 1946, Israel from the United Kingdom in 1948, Libya from a United Nations trusteeship in 1951, Oman from a special treaty with the United Kingdom in 1951, Sudan from the United Kingdom in 1956, Morocco from France in 1956, Tunisia from France in 1956, Algeria from France in 1960, Cyprus from the United Kingdom in 1960, Mauritania from France in 1960, Kuwait from the United Kingdom in 1961, South Yemen from the United Kingdom in 1967, Bahrain from the United Kingdom in 1971, Qatar from the United Kingdom in 1971, and the United Arab Emirates from the United Kingdom in 1971.

The Middle East and North Africa has experienced an extreme imbalance in economic growth and development over the past century largely due to the availability of natural resources, efficiency in national governments, the prevalence of corruption, and interethnic conflict.  Lebanon was the regional banking hub until civil war erupted in the 1970s.  Rapid modernization occurred in the Gulf States during the latter-half of the twentieth century and during the early twenty-first century due to the exploitation of significant oil and natural gas reserves.  Turkey experienced steady industrialization and growth during the twentieth century as it capitalized on its large population, geographic location, and ties with Europe.  North African nations face many humanitarian problems due to inadequate housing, poor living conditions, rapid population growth during the twentieth century, and high unemployment.  Radical Islamic groups such as Al Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb have perpetrated terrorist acts directed toward governments in North Africa and the West.  Sporadic fighting from rebel groups in Algeria has occurred intermittently over the past several decades.  With assistance from the Soviet Union, the Aswan Dam was completed in 1971 in Egypt.  The dam has prevented nutrient rich waters from inundating agricultural land along the Nile, resulting in declining soil quality.  Egypt has recently become one of the most militarily powerful nations in the region. 

Significant conflict has occurred in the region from the 1940s to present day as a result of civil and interstate wars, military coups, ethnic violence, poor economic conditions, and limited democratic freedoms.  Jewish settlers began immigrating to Palestine during the early twentieth century, initiating conflict and violence with Arab Palestinians over the planned-Jewish state of Israel.  Upon independence, surrounding Arab states immediately invaded Israel in 1948 but a year later, Israel gained 50% more territory following the signing of armistice agreements.  Severe political instability persisted from 1946 to the late 1960s in Syria as successive military coups took control.  In 1958, a joint Syria-Egypt state known as the United Arab Republic emerged but Syria seceded from the union in 1961 following another military coup.  In Iraq, a coup overthrew the monarchy and government in the late 1950s, establishing a socialist government that transformed into a totalitarian dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.  Civil war plagued Sudan from nearly half a century following independence.  In 1967, the Six Days War was fought between Israel and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and resulted in Israel annexing the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.  A formal peace treaty was not reached between Israel and Egypt until 1979.  Friction between the two Yemeni states occurred during the 1970s and 1980s and Yemen has been politically unstable since unification in 1990.  Turkey invaded Cyprus in the 1970s and the de facto state of Northern Cyprus continues to rule areas conquered by Turkey.  Significant resistance movements in predominantly-Kurdish areas in Turkey and Iraq have to instability and violence for decades.  Morocco annexed Western Sahara in the late 1970s and continues to control the area, although this action is not recognized by the international community.  In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was pronounced "Supreme Leader" in Iran upon the overthrow of the Shah and took power through the establishment of a theocratic government.  A long, bloody war between Iran and Iraq was fought from 1980 to 1988 and resulted with mass casualties to both sides.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Libyan-leader Muammar Qadhafi attempted to spread his unique political ideologies abroad by sponsoring terrorism targeting Western interests.  Bombings sponsored by Libya in the 1980s in Europe against Western interested resulted in an American militarily offensive in 1986.  In Lebanon, civil war lasted from 1975 to 1990, severely damaging the country's infrastructure and dissuading foreign investment.  Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was repelled by the United States and coalition forces shortly thereafter.  In the 2000s, the international community comprised of the United States, European Union, the United Nations, and Russia have collaborated with Israeli and Palestinian forces for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state that can peacefully coexist with Israel, but these efforts have met consistent frustration and delay due to ongoing hostilities, the terrorist activities of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other groups, and difficult negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and  the Israeli government.  In 2003, the United States and coalition forces invaded Iraq due to Iraqi noncompliance with United Nations inspectors and alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction although such weapons were never reportedly found.  Political instability, terrorist attacks, and ethnic violence enveloped Iraq for much of the remainder of the 2000s.  Boundary conflicts and military skirmishes between Lebanon and  Israel have occurred over the past several decades, culminating in a month long conflict in 2006 instigated by Hizballah (Hezbollah) fighters in which Israel crippled Lebanon's infrastructure.  The future status of Western Sahara and Palestinian-controlled territories remained uncertain as of early 2011. 

Beginning in late 2010, unprecedented rioting, civil disorder, demonstrations, and protests spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa by social media and the internet demanding greater democratic freedoms, changes in government administration, and economic reforms.  By mid-May 2011, revolutions occurred in Egypt and Tunisia, a civil war enveloped Libya, significant government changes occurred in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Syria, and major protests occurred in Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Morocco.

Culture 

Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam each originated from the Middle East but today Islam is the primary influence on culture and society in all countries in the region with the exception of Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon.  Islamic law known as Shari'a law is the primary source of legislation in most nations and is applied in full or in part throughout the region.  North African nations have homogenous Arab-Berber populations that have a strong ethno-religious tie to Islam.  Many Gulf States have a more cosmopolitan atmosphere due to the large nonnative population from East and South Asia, Europe, and North America but Islamic law is still strictly enforced.  Hospitality and greeting are heavily emphasized in most Arab countries.  Archaeological sites are common throughout the region.  Commonly eaten foods in the Middle East and North Africa include chicken, lamb, vegetables, yogurt, olives, spices, rice, nuts, bread, fish, humus, bread, and couscous.  Coffee and tea are commonly consumed and it is impolite for guests to refuse either drink in many nations in the Middle East.  Literature in many nations is a fusion of indigenous and colonial influences.  Alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are generally very low.  Pork is often unavailable in many nations in the region or not served publicly due to dietary regulations banning the meat by Muslims and Jews.  Polygamy is common and legal in most nations in accordance with Shari'a law and women generally have fewer rights than men. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $10,350 national median (2011) [21.8% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.687

Corruption Index: 4.0

Abundant petroleum and natural gas reserves have fueled economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa since the mid-twentieth century.  Petroleum exports for some nations account for as many as 90% of total export earnings.  The Gulf States include some of the world's wealthiest countries due to abundant oil and natural gas reserves, strategic geographic location, and responsible and effective national governments and economic policies.  Bahrain competes with Malaysia as a center of banking for the Muslim world.  Many governments in the Gulf States have diversified their economies in recent years to include tourism and other services, but a lack of additional natural resources challenges efforts for greater economic diversification.  High unemployment rates among the indigenous population in many nations in the region is a major challenge for governments to address.  Standards of living are lowest in North Africa and nations without significant oil and natural gas reserves such as Yemen.  Tight government controls on the economy have dissuaded foreign investment in many nations and limit economic growth.  Limited fresh water is a major concern for governments to address and many wealthier nations rely heavily on water desalinization to support their burgeoning populations.  War, political instability, poverty, and low literacy rates have continued to frustrate greater economic development in many nations.  Israel possesses an advanced market economy that has diversified and developed over the past several decades despite limited natural resources and regional instability.  Services account for half or more of the GDP in most nations in the region with the exception of some oil-rich nations such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia where industry generates the majority of the GDP.  Natural resources consist of petroleum, natural gas, valuable minerals, industrial metals, arable land, hydropower, timber, clay, and sand.  Common crops and agricultural products include grains, fruit, vegetables, olives, dates, cotton, nuts, beef, mutton, poultry, and qat.  Petroleum and natural gas exploitation and refining, chemicals, tourism, clothing, cement, fertilizer, construction, mining, banking, wood products, and metal products are prevalent industries.  Primary trade partners with the Middle East and North Africa include the United States, Western Europe, and East Asia.

Overall the region experiences high rates of perceived corruption due to few democratic freedoms, little government transparency of funds, the prevalence of state-run companies, and highly valuable oil and natural gas earnings in the hands of a small, cultural elite.  Common challenges include human trafficking, illicit drug trafficking, bribery, embezzlement, intrinsic government corruption, weapons trafficking, and financing terrorist groups.  Money laundering is a serious concern in Bahrain, Cyprus, and Israel due to their status as banking centers.  There have been some limited anti-corruption efforts in recent years.  Corruption is perceived as the least prevalent in the Gulf States and the most rampant in Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, and disputed territories.  

Faiths

Muslim: 92%

Christian: 5.2%

Jewish: 1.2%

other/unknown: 1.6%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Coptic Christians  8,105,200 

Catholic  denominations  4,854,381

Orthodox denominations  3,205,833

Seventh Day Adventists  12,200  85

Jehovah's Witnesses  10,900  147+

Latter-day Saints  5,000  78+

Religion

With the exception of Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon all countries in the Middle East and North Africa are homogeneously Muslim and Islam is the primary influence on everyday life, society, and government notwithstanding Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam each being founded in the region.  Muslims account for 95% of the population or higher in Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, Western Sahara, and Yemen and between 90% and 95% of the population in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria.  Muslims account for smaller percentages in Kuwait (85%), Bahrain (81%), and Qatar (77.5%), and the United Arab Emirates (76%) due to the large number of non-Muslim foreigners from North America, Europe, the Philippines, and South Asia residing in these nations.  The indigenous population in each of these four nations is 99% Muslim.  All predominantly Muslim nations in the region are Sunni majority with the exception of Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq which are Shi'a majority.  Conflict between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims occurs in many countries in the region such as Iraq and Bahrain.  The percentage of Muslims in Sudan is uncertain due to the secession of South Sudan but Muslims were estimated to account for 60% of Sudan as a whole in the 2000s.  60% of the population of Lebanon is Muslim.  Muslims account for 18% of the population in Cyprus and 16.8% in Israel.  Millions of Muslims from around the world travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimages, including the annual Hajj and Umrah, the latter of which can occur at anytime during the year.[1]

Christian populations in the Middle East and North Africa have dwindled over the past century due to emigration and low birth rates.[2]  Cyprus is the only Christian-majority nation in the region and 95% of the population in government-controlled areas adheres to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus.  In 2006, a poll found that only 19% of Greek Cypriots attended church weekly and over half attended only on holidays or rarely attended church services.[3]  The majority of the population in Northern Cyprus is Muslim (98%) but is very secular and only 10% attended religious services regularly.  Lebanon is 39% Christian.  Many different traditional Christian groups operate in Lebanon, the largest being Maronite Catholics followed by Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics.  Many small, ancient Christian denominations, such as Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Copts are established.  Egypt supports the largest Christian population of any country in the region and 80% or more of Christians are Coptic Orthodox.  The number of Christians in Iraq halved from 800,000 to 1.4 million in 2003 to between 400,000 and 600,000 in 2010 due to emigration.  Associated with the Catholic Church, Chaldean Christians are the largest Christian denomination in Iraq and account for two-thirds of the Christian population.   Assyrian Christians (Church of the East) are the second largest denomination and constitute approximately 20% of Iraqi Christians.[4]  Approximately 10% of Syrians are Christians, although due to emigration the percentage of Christians may have fallen to 8%.  The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Syria.[5]  In Algeria, most Christians and Jews fled Algeria after independence or in the 1990s due to intolerance and violence from Muslim extremists

Traditional Orthodox Christian and Catholic denominations comprised of indigenous ethnic groups account for the majority of Christians in Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey.  Minority ethnic groups such as Armenians account for many of these traditional Christians in these nations.  Migrant workers and expatriates account for the majority of Christians in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen as most Christians are Roman Catholics and Protestants.  Intolerance of Christians and non-Muslim religious groups is common throughout the region and most severe in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Israel is the only Jewish-majority nation in the world.  Three-quarters of the Israeli population is Jewish, of which 44% is non-religious or secular, 39% is traditionally religious/non-religious, 10% is Orthodox, and 7% is ultra-Orthodox.  Additional Jewish sects include Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews.  Approximately 30% of the Jewish population was born abroad.  Arab Sunni Muslims account for most of the non-Jewish population.  Christians and Druze account for a tiny minority, together comprising fewer than 5% of the population.  There are approximately 10,000 Messianic Jews.  There is a high degree of geographic segregation among religious communities.[6]  There are small communities of Jews in most nations in the Middle East and North Africa and many of these Jewish communities are shrinking due to emigration to Israel and persecution such as in Yemen.  

Other world and regional religions are found in the Middle East.  Hindus and Buddhists are concentrated among migrant workers in the Gulf States.  In Qatar, Hindus likely number over 100,000 and Buddhists may account for 150,000 to 200,000 people.[7]  In the United Arab Emirates, some reports indicate that as much as 15% of the population follows Hinduism and 5% adhere to Buddhism.  In Bahrain, half of foreign workers are Muslim whereas the remainder includes Christians, Hindus, Bahai's, Buddhists, and Sikhs.  Baha'i communities function in most countries in the Middle East and are small.  Iran supports the largest Baha'i population of any country in the region with an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 adherents.  There may be as many as 60,000 Zoroastrians in Iran.[8]  Found in northern areas of Iraq, Yezidis and Shabaks are syncretic religious groups that incorporate indigenous religious beliefs or Christianity into Islam; each claim approximately half a million followers.[9]  Practiced in the Near East, the Druze religion is an Islamic offshoot which incorporates many philosophical elements with adherents in mountainous, rural areas.[10]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitutions of nearly all nations in the Middle East and North Africa protect religious freedom and belief but most governments restrict the right of religious practice for citizens and noncitizens alike.  Islam is the state religion or officially sponsored by the governments of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  Shari'a law is adopted in most of these nations, severely limiting the religious freedom for non-Muslims.  Turkey maintains a secularist government notwithstanding 99.8% of the population identifying as Muslim largely due to the legacy of Ataturk and ties to Europe.  Many governments in the Middle East and North Africa legitimize strict prohibitions on religious freedom to prevent the spread of militant Islam, maintain public order, and to protect the historic Islamic identity of their respective nations.  Most countries permit religious nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to perform humanitarian and development work but strictly forbid missionary activity. 

Christians and other non-Muslim groups experience the greatest freedom in Bahrain, Cyprus, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.  In Bahrain, the government interferes little with the operation of non-Muslim and Christian groups and permits the distribution and sale of religious literature. [11]  In Cyprus, open proselytism in government controled areas is permitted and foreign missionaries must obtain residence permits.  Public schools are mandated to teach students about the Greek Orthodox Church.  Only students with non-Greek Cypriot parents can have this instruction waved.  North Cyprus does not have laws barring proselytism but missionary activity is rare and discouraged.[12]  In Lebanon, individuals may change religions as long as the leader of the religious group consents and an individual wishes to join.  Unrecognized religious groups may operate in the country, assemble, and own property, but do not enjoy the privileges enjoyed by recognized groups, such as tax exemption status and freedom of adherents to run for public office.  Proselytism is not illegal, but socially discouraged.  At times Maronite Christian leaders attempted to prevent proselytism by evangelical Christians.  Societal abuse of religious freedom has targeted Jews and non-traditional Christian groups, chiefly evangelicals.[13]  In Oman, conversion from Islam to another religion is not regarded as a crime but does carry potential legal challenges for fathers retaining rights over their children.  Proselytism is not illegal but can be stopped if those offended report it to government.  Government prohibits foreigners on tourist visas from preaching, teaching, and leading congregations.[14]  In Palestine, societal tensions are highest between Jews and the non-Jewish population but Christian groups generally operate with few restrictions.[15]  In Turkey, proselytism is not illegal but socially unacceptable and sometimes dangerous.  Christians and other religious groups are allowed to teach and talk to others about their faith.  Non-Muslims faced pressure and threats from the Muslim majority resulting in diminished religious freedom for these groups.[16]  In the United Arab Emirates, all citizens must be Muslims.  The government has interfered very little with the religious activities of non-Muslims, but bans proselytism and distributing non-Islamic literature.  Muslims who convert to a different religion face societal pressures to return to Islam.  The United Arab Emirates is considered perhaps the most tolerant Islamic nation in the Middle East toward non-Muslims.[17] 

Non-Muslims and religious freedom are most seriously restricted in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  In Algeria, new legislation was introduced in 2008 regarding the religious practice of non-Muslims which has restricted the freedom of formerly Muslim Christians and has denied any applications for Christian groups to be registered with the government.  The Catholic Church is the only officially recognized non-Muslim religious group.  Christian groups which have attempted to obtain recognition include the Anglican Church and Seventh Day Adventists.  The proselytism of Muslims is illegal although this law is not entirely enforced.  Many Christian converts keep a low profile in order to avoid persecution and violence from Islamic fundamentalist groups that call for the killing and persecution of formerly Muslim Christians.  Reports of bible confiscations and church closures have occurred recently.[18]  In Egypt, those committing acts of violence and persecution directed toward non-Muslims are rarely prosecuted.  However, most Christians and Baha'is do not report consistent persecution and generally worship without interference.  Converts to Christianity from Islam tend to experienced marked harassment from society and government.  Coptic Christians appear to receive the greatest amount of persecution from Muslim sectarian groups.  Muslim-born citizens who convert to Christianity may be monitored by government officials.  Many officials consider conversion from Islam for Muslim-born citizens illegal as it is prohibited in Shari'a law.  Proselytism is not legally banned, but is restricted by police.  Government registration for religious groups requires consent from the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church or the sheikh of Al-Azhar as well as the president.[19]  In Iran, the government has taken an increasingly less tolerant attitude toward non-Shi'a Muslim groups.  Religious groups which have received the greatest harassment, violence, and persecution include Baha'is, Evangelical Christians, Sufi Muslims, and Jews.  There have been many recent reports of religious minorities being discriminated against, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated by the government.  Non-Muslims are forbidden to publicly disseminate religious material or to proselyte Muslims.  The government has made an effort to have Evangelical Christian leaders to sign pledges to not allow Muslims to attend worship services or perform proselytism.  Apostasy from Islam is a crime for Muslims and in the past has been punished by death although no recent executions have occurred.  Baha'is have faced the most extreme persecution from government authorities, many of whom deem the religious group as a political entity attempting to disunite Iran and Muslims.  Ethnic minority groups must have their religious materials in their respective languages approved by government officials.  Minority religious groups frequently report that they are under close government surveillance and have had religious materials confiscated.[20]  In Iraq, religious freedom has been consistently upheld by the government since 2003, but its practice has been limited by extremists, terrorists, and gangs which target religious minority groups.  Violent attacks on religious leaders and places of worship curtail the freedom of religious practice for many.  The government has issued numerous statements and has followed policies which encourage religious tolerance.  Religious groups must register with the government to operate.  To register a religious group is required to have at least 500 followers in the country and receive approval from the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders.  There are no government restrictions on conversion and proselytism.[21]  In Israel, the government discriminates against non-Orthodox Jewish sects and non-Jews.  Religious groups recognized by the British prior to independence have been consistently referred to as religious communities by the Israeli government.  Only three additional groups have been granted religious community status since 1948: The Druze, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Baha'i Faith.  Many large Protestant groups are not recognized by the government but have operated for many years, such as Baptists, the Assemblies of God, and Lutherans.  Obtaining visas for religious representatives has been challenging for recognized and unrecognized religious groups alike.  Any religious group may legally proselyte without restrictions among the entire population, but there have been counter-proselytism efforts by the government to discourage missionary activity.  Interethnic and inter-religious tensions between Muslim Arabs, differing Jewish sects, and Christians continue to be strained.  Messianic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and evangelical Christians report the greatest societal abuse of religious freedom as they are frequently targeted by anti-missionary Jewish groups such as Yad L'Achim and Lev L'Achim.[22]  In Jordan, proselytism of Muslims is not illegal but is strongly discouraged.  The government has harassed those accused of proselytizing Muslims.  Formerly Muslim Christian converts can lose their civil rights and the government has at times attempted to reconvert them back to Islam, still considering Christian converts to be Muslims.  Expatriate Evangelical Christians appear to have the poorest relationship with the government among Christians as they are among the most aggressive proselytizers, are more informal with managing their religious affairs with the government, and were accused of violating immigration laws.[23]  In Kuwait non-Sunni Muslims face many restrictions, including a ban on proselytism of Muslims which is strictly enforced.  Non-Muslim missionaries cannot work in the country.  Recognized Christian churches are usually unable to acquire more land for chapels resulting in severe overcrowding of functioning facilities.  Those who criticize or oppose Islam face severe penalties including imprisonment.[24]  In Libya, there is no constitution and no legal basis for religious freedom.  The Great Green Charter on Human Rights from 1988 protects some religious freedom rights.  The government tolerates religious activity among Muslims and non-Muslims alike with the exception of militant Islamist sects.  Religious practices not in harmony with the government's interpretation of Shari'a law are prohibited, including the proselytism of Muslims by other religious groups.  Religious activity is regulated and at times restricted.  At present there is no legislation prohibiting conversion, religious conversations, and the sharing of religious beliefs, but the government does prosecute those violating the proselytism ban.  The government limits each Christian denomination to one meeting location per city.  Arabic-language non-Islamic materials are often confiscated by government authorities. [25]  In Mauritania, the printing or distributing non-Islamic religious materials and non-Islamic proselytism is forbidden.  The possession of non-Islamic religious materials is permitted.  Christians and non-Muslim religious groups may meet in private but must first obtain official authorization from government authorities.  Religious groups do not register with the government, but religious NGOs must agree to refrain from engaging in missionary activities at any time.  Christians who have attempted to proselyte in the past have been detained or deported.  The few Mauritania Christians are ostracized by their family and friends.[26]  In Morocco and Western Sahara, non-Muslim foreigners may openly practice their beliefs but local non-Muslims and non-Jews face threats of government surveillance, ostracism, and persecution for worshipping.  Local Christian converts tend to meet in private homes to worship.  The government bans proselytism and the distribution of non-Islamic literature.  Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is illegal.  Foreign Christian missionaries do operate in Morocco and either work among non-Muslims or secretly among Muslims, but can be expelled if their activities are made public.[27]  In Qatar, proselytism by non-Muslims is forbidden and can result in up to a 10 year jail sentence.  Those in possession of materials supporting or promoting non-Muslim religions can be imprisoned for up to two years; however there has never been a case where this law has been enforced since its passage.  Law restricts places of worship.  Conversion of Muslims to other religions is classified as apostasy and can result in the death penalty although there has been no instance in which this has been enforced since independence.  The publication, importation and distribution of religious books is controlled by the government but individuals and religious groups were not restricted in trafficking religious materials for use at home or in congregations.[28]  In Saudi Arabia, The law does not protect or guarantee religious rights.  Government often restricts the rights of citizens and foreigners to assemble and worship.  Private worship is allowed for both citizens and foreigners who do not adhere to Sunni Islam.  However, those who practice their religious beliefs can be subjected to government harassment.  The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) acts as a religious police to ensure the adherence of the population to Islamic law.  The CPVPV has confiscated religious materials from non-Muslims and conducted raids on both illegal non-Sunni Muslim religious meetings and private religious meetings.  There has been some recent improvement in allowing non-Muslims to possess personal religious literature.  The conversion of Muslims and proselytism can result in the death penalty although there have been no recent instances where this punishment has been enforced.[29]  In Sudan, conversion from Islam to another religion may be punishable by imprisonment or death but there have been no instances of the government carrying out a death sentence for conversion from Islam.  Muslims converting to a different religion have been intimated by government authorities, persecuted, and pressured to recant their conversion and at times encouraged to leave the country.  Defaming Islam and blasphemy are punishable crimes.  The government regulates the operation of mosques and imams.  The government delays and restricts the number of visas for foreign religious workers and generally only grants visas to Christian clergy to support local congregations and not for Christian missionary activity.  The government does not permit missionaries to proselyte in Sudan but missionaries may perform humanitarian work and promote Christian-Muslim cooperation.[30]  In Syria, the government monitors all religious groups and discourages proselytism out of fears that it could disrupt public order.  Missionaries accused of proselytizing may be prosecuted for threatening relations between religious groups and receive prison sentences from five years to life, although most sentences are usually reduced to one to two years.  The government has demonstrated favoritism to Shi'a Islam and has permitted Shi'a missionaries to proselyte and convert Sunni Muslims.  Religious groups must register with the government and receive permits to hold meetings that are not worship services.  There are no specific laws which prohibit proselytism or the distribution of religious literature.  Conversion is extremely unusual, technically illegal, and often forces converts to move away from their native communities.[31]  In Tunisia, the government forbids proselytism directed toward Muslims as it is regarded as disturbing public order and restricts the wearing of some Islamic religious clothing.  Muslims may convert to another religion, but often face government harassment and manipulation and social ostracism.  Most Christian denominations no longer attempt to apply for registration due to government policies denying registration for other Christian groups.  The government permits only a small number of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to operate to offer service and perform charitable activities.[32]  In Yemen, the proselytism and conversion of Muslims is forbidden.   Apostasy from Islam can result in the death penalty and the government has detained several Christian converts who left Islam in recent years.  Government permits individuals to practice their religious beliefs and allows assembly with some restrictions.  In the late 2000s, Jews, Christians, and Bahai's received marked persecution from some Muslim groups, with many foreigners facing deportation or voluntarily making plans to leave the country.  Government does not usually pursue prosecution of those committing violence against religious minorities and has done little to ensure their safety.  However, most Muslim groups live harmoniously with the few non-Muslims.  Religious minorities have been able to get visas for ministers to serve their communities.  Rebel or terrorist organizations have targeted foreigners who are accused of performing missionary activity, several of whom remain missing.[33]

Largest Cities

Urban: low (32% - Yemen); high (98% - Kuwait)

Cairo, Tehran, Istanbul, Baghdad, Riyadh, Khartoum, Alexandria, Ankara, Casablanca, Jidda, Damascus, Algiers, Amman, Izmir, Meshed, Aleppo, Tunis, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Sanaa, Isfahan, Dammam, Rabat, Kuwait City, Bursa, Mecca, Dubai, Gaza, Adana, Mosul, Tabriz, Doha, Shiraz, Gaziantep, Beirut, Oran, Basra, Manama, Tripoli, Ash-Shariqah, Medina, Fes, Ahvaz, Qom, Konya.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

19 of the 44 cities with over one million inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  27% of the regional population resides in the 44 most populous cities. 

LDS History

LDS apostle Elder Orson Hyde traveled to Palestine and dedicated the Holy Land on October 24th, 1841 for the gathering of the Jews.[34]  The first LDS missionaries assigned to the region preached in Turkey in 1850 and four years later the first congregation was organized for British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.  The Turkish Mission was organized in 1884 and the first Arabian converts joined the Church in Aintab in 1889.  Initial success occurred with Armenians.  LDS missionary efforts in the Middle East commenced in Syria in the late nineteenth century among Armenian Christian communities.  A branch established in Aleppo, Syria became one of the largest branches in the Turkish Mission, resulting in the relocation of mission headquarters to Aleppo, Syria from 1907 to 1909.  The mission was discontinued in 1909 due to political instability, reorganized in 1921 with headquarters in Aleppo.  Headquarters were briefly relocated to Haifa, Palestine in 1928 until the death of the mission president in 1929.  Many members died or left the region between 1909 and 1921.  The mission president coordinated with French government officials to relocate Armenian members in Aintab, Turkey to Aleppo in 1921.  The mission reopened in 1933 as the Palestine-Syrian Mission, was closed in 1939, and reopened again in 1947.  The mission was renamed the Near East Mission in 1950 and was permanently closed in 1951.  During the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, the mission also administered Lebanon.  LDS servicemen held worship services in Tunisia during World War II.[35]  

Latter-day Saints have lived in Jordan since approximately the 1950s.  Small groups of foreign Latter-day Saints have met for church in Morocco since as early as the 1950s. 

The first LDS congregation in Iran was established in Tehran in the 1950s.[36]  During the latter-half of the twentieth century expatriate members periodically held LDS services in Syria until a permanent branch was established in 1997.  The first LDS group was organized in Cyprus in 1962.[37]  The first proselyting missionaries assigned to Lebanon arrived in late 1965 from the Swiss Mission.  Expatriate Latter-day Saints began living in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s and 1970s.  Latter-day Saints among the United States military held meetings in Libya prior to the removal of all foreign military personnel in the early 1970s.[38]  The Church in Israel and several other Near East nations was administered from Switzerland in the early 1970s.[39]  In the 1970s, the first LDS congregations began functioning in Bahrain, Egypt, and Kuwait.  In Israel, several senior missionary couples were called to serve as special representatives for the Church in the 1970s.  Church members have lived in Yemen since the 1970s.[40]  In 1974, there was only one LDS family in Tunisia living in Tunis.[41]  In 1975, the Church withdrew its missionaries from Lebanon and most Lebanese members emigrated due to civil war.  That same year the Church organized the Iran Tehran Mission.  18 missionaries learned Farsi and participated in humanitarian and development work such as teaching English and assisting Boy Scout programs, but did not openly proselyte.  Approximately 15 Iranians joined the Church prior to the discontinuance of the mission in early 1979 as a result of the Iranian Revolution.  The last sacrament meeting in Iran was held in May 1979.[42]  A branch was organized in Ankara, Turkey in late 1979.[43]  The first meeting of LDS members in Dubai, United Arab Emirates occurred in 1982.[44]  Elder Boyd K. Parker organized the first stake in the Middle East for expatriates living on the Arabian Peninsula in 1983.[45]  At the time, all wards in the new stake likely met in Saudi Arabia.  Special representative missionaries were removed from Israel in 1985 due to conflict regarding the building of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center.  A 1986 deal with the Knesset permitted the LDS Church to build its Jerusalem Center in exchange for the Church promising to refrain from any proselytism activity.[46]  The Church has a 99-year lease for the land on which the Jerusalem Center stands.[47]  In 1989, the Church obtained permission from the government to register a visitor center in Jordan.[48]  The center is used for local branch functions and for educating the public about Brigham Young University (BYU).  A branch in Tunis, Tunisia was organized sometime in the 1980s or 1990s.  Some of the first native Turks to join the Church in the past several decades were baptized in the late 1980s in Germany.  There was no LDS presence in Cyprus between 1980 and the early 1990s.  Cyprus was assigned to the Greece Athens Mission in 1990.[49]  Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin dedicated Cyprus for missionary work in September 1993.[50]  During the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, more than 100 groups served the needs of LDS military members throughout the Arabian Peninsula.  These groups ranged from four to five to 175 attending worship services on Fridays or Sundays.[51]  In late 1992 and early 1993, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in Israel.[52]  In 1994, the BYU Young Ambassadors performed in Morocco[53] and Tunisia.[54]  In the late 1990s, humanitarian missionaries were reassigned to Beirut, Lebanon and assisted the small congregation.[55] 

In Bahrain, the LDS Church received official recognition prior to 2001.[56]  The first LDS congregation in Iraq was formed in April 2003 at Tallil Air Base to service LDS American military personnel.[57]  In 2006, humanitarian missionaries were trapped in Beirut, Lebanon during the month long conflict with Israel; humanitarian activities resumed shortly thereafter.  Senior missionary couples are assigned to the Jerusalem Center and in the 2000s were also called to work in the Galilee area in Israel.  Elder M. Russell Ballard became the second apostle to visit the United Arab Emirates in 2007 when he visited members in Dubai.[58]  In 2008, the seminary program was introduced in Morocco.  In 2009, Elder Holland presided over the Manama Bahrain Stake conference.[59]   In October 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Lebanon for missionary work.  The organization of the Baghdad Iraq Military District in late 2009 permitted the organization of branches for LDS American military personnel in Iraq.[60]  In the late 2000s, the Arabian Peninsula Stake was renamed the Manama Bahrain Stake and in early 2011 the stake was relocated to the United Arab Emirates and renamed the Abu Dhabi Stake.  At the same time, the Manama Bahrain District was organized to administer Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.  In early 2011, three area branches were organized in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

The Europe Central Area administered most nations in the Middle East between 2000 and 2008 whereas the Europe West Area administered most nations in North Africa during this period.  In 2008, all countries in the Middle East and North Africa were assigned to the newly organized Middle East/Africa North Area with the exception of Cyprus (Europe Area), Turkey (Europe East Area), Sudan (Africa Southeast Area), and Mauritania and Western Sahara (Africa West Area). 

There has never been a known LDS presence in Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan, and Western Sahara.  Small groups comprised of a handful of members may meet on an irregular basis in these nations at present.  There has been no formal LDS presence in the West Bank or Gaza Strip since the mid-twentieth century, but a small group operated in Bethlehem in the 2000s. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 5,000 (2011 estimate)

There were likely around 2,000 members in the Middle East and North Africa in 2000 most of which residing in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.  Membership in the Arabian Peninsula Stake stood at 900 in 2004.  By 2009, membership increased to 1,950.[61]  The number of members in the Middle East/Africa North Area increased from 2,813 in 2007 to 3,440 in 2009 and 3,795 in 2010.  In 2010, Iraq appeared to be the nation with the most members (1,300) followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Cyprus.  In 2011, there appeared to be fewer than 50 members in Algeria, Iran, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  Nonnative members from North American and Europe on government assignment or business comprise all or most of LDS membership in these nations with the exception of Iran and Palestine.  Any Latter-day Saints in Iran consist of Iranian converts baptized abroad who have returned to their home country or early Iranian Latter-day Saints who remained in the country following the revolution.  There are no known Latter-day Saints living in Mauritania, Sudan, and Western Sahara.  In 2010, one in approximately 100,000 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 6 Branches: 42+ Groups: 30+

There were likely 15 LDS congregations in the region in the early 1980s.  The Church began reporting congregational totals for some nations in the Middle East during the 2000s.  In 2000, there were approximately 25-30 LDS congregations in the Middle East and North Africa.  At the time there were as many as five or six congregations in Saudi Arabia, three in Cyprus, two in Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, and one in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Syria, and Tunisia.  The number of wards and branches in the Middle East/Africa North area increased from 25 in 2007 to 31 in 2009.  The number of wards increased from six to eight during this period.  By mid-2011, the number of congregations in the region increased to approximately 80 as there were an estimated 36 congregations in Iraq (six of which are independent branches), seven or eight in Saudi Arabia, six in the United Arab Emirates, four in Cyprus, Israel, and Turkey, two in Jordan, Morocco, and Qatar, and one in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia.  Groups may have been operating in Algeria and Yemen in mid-2011.

There are no known independent congregations operating in Algeria, Iran, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  Dependent branches or groups part of the Middle East/Africa North Area Branch or other area branches appeared to operate in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, and Yemen in 2010.  Area branches were specifically organized for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia in early 2011.  There have been no known LDS congregations to have ever operated in Mauritania, the Gaza Strip, Sudan, and Western Sahara.  No LDS congregations have operated in Iran since the late 1970s.

In mid-2011, there was only one LDS stake in the region headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (1983) and districts operating in Israel (1980), Amman Jordan (2005), Nicosia Cyprus (2007), Baghdad Iraq (2009), and Manama Bahrain (2011).  In late 2011, the Church closed the Bagdad Iraq Military District due to the withdrawal of most American military personnel.

Activity and Retention

The number of active members per congregation is generally small due to few Latter-day Saints spread over a large geographic area.  Overall member activity and convert retention rates correlate most strongly with North America and Europe as most members originate from these nations.  Nations in which LDS membership has greater numbers of indigenous members such as Jordan and Lebanon appear to have lower member activity rates.  The Gulf States appear to have the highest member activity rates (45-80%) whereas the Near East and Cyprus appear to have the lowest (30-50%).  Kuwait (80%), Oman (75%), and Saudi Arabia (75%) appear to have the highest member activity rates whereas Israel and Cyprus (30%) and Lebanon (33%) appear to have the lowest.  Active membership in countries with no reported LDS presence is limited to those who attend private meetings in LDS member homes or those who follow Church teachings without a nearby congregation.  76 were enrolled in seminary in the Arabian Peninsula during the 2008-2009 school year.  Regional active membership is estimated at 2,600, or 50-55% of total church membership.  Estimated member activity rates may be inflated due to unknown numbers of inactive or less-active members in the region who are difficult to locate. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, French, Armenian (East and West), Hindi, Telugu, Tagalog, Cebuano, Tamil, Sinhala, Urdu, Chinese (traditional and simplified characters), Russian, Romanian, Polish, Italian, Bulgarian, Korean.

All LDS scriptures and many church materials are available in Arabic, French, Greek, Armenian (East), Tagalog, Cebuano, Russian, Romanian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Korean.  The LDS Church recently completed a Spanish-translation of the LDS-edition of the Bible complete with full LDS footnotes, Bible dictionary, and topical guide.  Limited numbers of church materials and the Book of Mormon are translated into Turkish, Hindi, Telugu, Sinhala, and Urdu; only Book of Mormon selections are available in Bengali and Farsi.  General Conference talks have been translated into Farsi at least since 2007 and audio translations are provided on the Church's website.[62]  Book of Mormon selections, Gospel Principles, Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and a few additional proselytism materials are available in Farsi.  The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, Book of Mormon selections, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are translated into the western dialect of Armenian.  Many unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Turkish.  The only Church materials in Malayalam are Gospel Fundamentals and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Pashto language materials include Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.  Materials translated into Wolof and Pulaar (Fulani) include Gospel Principles and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Hebrew translations of LDS materials are limited to the sacrament prayers.[63]  The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in French, Tagalog, Cebuano, Chinese, Russian, Italian, and Korean, four issues a year in Armenian (East), Bulgarian, Romanian, and Polish, three issues a year in Urdu, and one issue  a year in Greek.  

Meetinghouses

Church meetings occur in rented spaces and villas in most nations in the Middle East and North Africa.  The Church in some nations with no official LDS presence or few members worship in the privacy of their own homes in small groups.  A couple church-owned meetinghouses or chapels are found in Israel and church-owned or church-built meetinghouses are under consideration in the United Arab Emirates.  Latter-day Saint servicemen generally worship at military installations in the Middle East such as in Iraq.   

Health and Safety

Political and social conditions in many countries in the region pose significant safety risks for Christian missionaries and non-traditional Christians.  In Egypt, terrorist attacks and violence directed towards non-Muslims is a major concern for the LDS Church and any potential missionary activity.  Iranian Latter-day Saints face considerable persecution and harassment from government, family, and friends.  There have been instances of Iranian LDS converts fleeing relatives who seek to physically harm them.  Apostasy from Islam can be punished by death in Iran, although this is uncommon.  Christian converts are typically harassed and sometimes arrested.  Any travel of American nationals to Iran at present is extremely unsafe.  It is not possible for United States citizens to obtain a visa to enter Iran due to the lack of diplomatic relations.  Americans who have traveled to Iran or who have wandered into Iranian territory have been detained for extended and indefinite periods, and Iranian-Americans with dual citizenship and family ties to Iran have sometimes been arrested on allegations of spying.  Travelers from the United Kingdom and other Western European nations have generally been able to obtain tourist visas, although any religious proselytism is strictly forbidden.  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and some other nations in the region have positive relations with Iran and their citizens experience greater freedom of travel.  In Iraq, lawlessness and societal abuse of religious freedom have been extreme in many areas.  Religious minorities, Sunnis in predominately Shi'a neighborhoods, and Shi'as in predominate Sunni neighborhoods have frequently reported receiving death threats which demanded their departure.  Failure to comply to such threats often resulted in death.  The frequency of these threats has reportedly declined in recent years as stability has been restored, but remain a serious problem.  Recent acts of violence that were religiously motivated include beheadings, drive-by shootings, suicide bombings, kidnappings, and church and mosque bombings.  Islamist extremists and al-Qaeda operatives are common perpetrators of the crimes[64] but are rarely caught or brought to justice due to an inadequate and undertrained police force, widespread corruption, and endemic complicity of various ethnic and religious factions in obstructing investigation into members of their own groups.  In Israel, Christian missionary groups are often physically intimated and harassed by some radical Jewish groups.  Terrorist attacks pose a safety risk.  In Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to pose a safety threat due to terrorism and extremist groups targeting Christians that proselyte.  Access to healthcare is extremely poor in the Gaza Strip.  In Sudan, political instability, war, and ethno-religious conflicts are major safety concerns.  Millions have perished over the past few decades as a result of civil war and ethnic hostilities.  In Yemen, conditions for foreign missionaries are very precarious and are currently unfavorable even for humanitarian assistance.  Several missionaries were kidnapped by Islamic extremists and remain missing. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

There have been nearly 200 humanitarian and development projects in the Middle East and North Africa conducted or sponsored by the LDS Church.  Countries which have had the most LDS projects performed include Turkey (83), Jordan (35), Egypt (24), and Palestine (23).  The Church conducted its first development project, a clean water project, in Algeria in the past decade.[65]  In Egypt, most projects have provided emergency aid, medical equipment and care, needed appliances, and training.[66]  In 2009, the Church donated wheelchairs and provided vision treatment.[67]  In Iran, the Church sent 975 sleeping bags and 550 family tents to earthquake victims in 1990.[68]  In 2004, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations thanked the LDS Church for a shipment of medicine to Bam following an earthquake which killed 28,000.  The shipment was large enough to treat nearly 100,000.[69]  In Iraq, the Church donated 13,000 blankets, clothing, and medical supplies to Kurdish and southern Iraqi refugees in 1991.[70]  In 2003, Latter-day Saints in Oxnard, California teamed up with other Christians in the community to donate school supplies to needy Iraqi school children.[71]  A similar service project occurred in 2004 which provided school supplies including nearly 600 books to a school that accommodated children with Down syndrome.[72]  Local members in Forth Worth, Texas sent clothing, blankets, pillows, and hygiene kits to Iraq in 2004.[73]  LDS American military medical professionals performed service to needy Iraqis by providing eye care that same year.[74] Latter-day Saints in the Denver, Colorado area assembled over 3,000 school kits to donate to nine schools in Iraq in 2005.[75]  Additional humanitarian projects completed include donating wheelchairs for the disabled and emergency relief for war victims.[76]  In Israel, the Church has donated x-ray equipment for dental workers, a computer system for the disabled, equipment for teaching employment skills, supplies for mothers and newborns, and blankets for the elderly.  Additional development work has included providing health information to Palestinian women and providing educational materials for children.[77]  In Jordan, the LDS Church has conducted significant humanitarian and development work, with as many as 35 projects completed since 1985.  Projects have included donations of wheelchairs, livestock, clothing, appliances, clothing, and bedding.  Clean water and education projects have also occurred.[78]  In 1991, the Church donated a machine for eye surgery to Jordanian doctors.[79]  In 2004, over 500 wheelchairs were donated by the Church to the disabled.[80]  In 2010, A humanitarian senior missionary couple was stationed in Irbid and also mentored local church members.[81]  In Lebanon, the Church has completed at least 26 humanitarian projects since 1985 including teaching English and donating wheelchairs, food, school supplies, hygiene kits, furniture, and fixtures.[82]  In 1985, some of the funds donated by Church members for famine relief in Africa went to Mauritania.[83]  In recent years, the Church provided emergency relief for refugees in Nouakchott.[84]  The Church has conducted a few humanitarian projects in Morocco in recent years, including donating an ophthalmology microscope and providing neonatal resuscitation training.[85]  In 2005, French members assembled 50 hygiene and 50 education kits to distribute to needy children in Laayoune, Western Sahara.[86]  In Palestine, the LDS Church has conducted numerous humanitarian and development work projects in association with other nongovernment organizations.  In both the West Bank and Gaza Strip the Church has donated hygiene kits, dry milk, school kits, newborn kits, blankets, orphanage modules, and wheelchairs.  The Church also provided neonatal resuscitation training in Gaza, Nablus, and Ramallah.  Aid has also specifically been delivered to the needy in East Jerusalem.[87]  In Syria, LDS humanitarian and development work as occurred at Damascus University and has included neonatal resuscitation training, hygiene kits for cancer patients, medications, and a career workshop.[88]  In Turkey, tens of thousands of articles of clothing and blankets were sent to Kurdish refugees in 1991.[89]  The Church donated $50,000 to earthquake relief in 1999.[90]  In 2009, LDS Charities donated tables, chairs, and toys to a needy school in a village outside of Ankara and school supplies in other areas.  The Church donated emergency supplies and hygiene kits to victims of a flash flood near Istanbul valued in the tens of thousands of US dollars in the late 2000s. 

No known LDS-sponsored humanitarian and development work had occurred in Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen as of mid-2011.  Some members and congregations in these nations may have performed some service projects in their communities on an irregular basis and in accordance with the law, such as a small group of Latter-day Saints cleaning a section of beach outside Muscat, Oman in February 2010. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church experiences full religious freedom in Cyprus as foreign missionaries regularly serve and proselyte and local members freely worship and assemble.  The LDS Church is partially recognized or recognized in full and experienced some restrictions on proselytism and missionary activity in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.  The LDS Church does not appear to be officially or semi-officially registered with the governments of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait,  Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  Future recognition for the Church in any of these nations appears unlike in the foreseeable future due to many of these governments refusing to recognize additional Christian groups, the LDS Church failing to meet qualifications for registration, harassment of nontraditional Christian groups in many of these nations, and the persecution of formerly-Muslim Christian converts.  Proselytism bans legally prevent LDS missionary activity among the indigenous Muslim population in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  Missionary activity among non-Muslim foreign populations in many of these nations is also restricted by national laws but can often occur on an individual basis.  The Church refrains from proselytism of Muslims in all nations in the region out of respect for local customs and negative societal views of non-traditional Christian groups proselytizing.  LDS worship services occur in private in most nations due to government restrictions.  Indigenous Latter-day Saint converts report the greatest restrictions on religious freedom in Egypt where some natives joined the Church elsewhere and returned did not attend meetings for fear of harassment and complained of government surveillance.[91]  

The Church publishes some limited congregational contact information for congregations in Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates due to greater religious freedom for non-Muslims in these nations.  Many members report challenges locating the Church in these nations however.  Prospective outreach among Muslim populations appears most favorable in Bahrain and Oman due to more liberal laws regarding missionary activity, but the Church does not participate in active proselytism among the indigenous population of either nation out of respect for local customs and to maintain good relations with the governments of both nations.  In Iraq, the LDS Church benefits from greater government protection of religious freedom for Christians and currently meets the needed threshold of 500 members to qualify for registration, but cultural intolerance and physical violence towards Christians renders such freedoms largely nominal and moot.  In Israel, Latter-day Saints are permitted to assemble and worship, but face many restrictions regarding proselytism, the baptism of converts and LDS children, and the translation and printing of Hebrew-language LDS materials.  There are no full-time proselytizing LDS missionaries and local members are not permitted to conduct missionary work.  Many of these restrictions were imposed by the LDS Church itself to safeguard against misunderstandings from the Jewish community and Israeli government and to secure the construction and operation of the BYU Jerusalem Center.  Overall Latter-day Saints have positive relations with the government as the Church has honored agreements.  Those desiring baptism in the LDS Church in Israel must travel to a nation in which the Church permits baptisms to receive this ordinance.  Foreign service missionaries appear to serve regularly.  In Jordan, the LDS Church is registered as a society but is not officially recognized by the government.  Overall, the Church appears to enjoy one of the most positive relationships among Middle Eastern governments with Jordan, which has come as a result of decades of humanitarian and development work, positive member example, and respect for local laws and customs regarding proselytism.  There are no legal restrictions for members to teach, although the Church avoids teaching Muslims out of respect for local traditions and to ensure the safety of investigators and converts.  In Lebanon, the LDS Church is not an officially recognized religious group despite a presence for 45 years.  The Church is registered under the Greek Orthodox faith[92] as the LDS Association.[93]  There are no legal obstacles or government policies which prohibit proselytism, but the Church refrains from such activity and conducts missionary work through member referrals.  Open proselytism is frowned upon by society, which is striving to maintain a delicate balance between Christian and Muslim faiths. 

In Turkey, senior missionaries reported that they could not preach about the Church but only answer questions without instigating a conversation about non-Muslim religion.  In February 2012, young full-time missionaries from the Bulgaria Sofia Mission were stationed in Istanbul and began learning Turkish.  All missionary activity appears to occur through member referral.

Cultural Issues

The strong influence of Islam on society, culture, government, and local laws is the primary barrier to LDS missionary activity as proselytism is either illegal or socially unaccepted and conversion from traditional faiths to nontraditional Christian denominations is highly stigmatized and generally results in ostracism, harassment, and at times threats to the physical well-being of converts.  Receptivity to the LDS Church and other nontraditional Christian groups is consistently low among indigenous populations in the Middle East and North Africa due to these issues.  The strong Islamic identity of North Africans and lack of religious diversity is a major cultural obstacle to LDS mission outreach as it is the origin of anti-proselytism legislation and intolerance of non-Islamic religious groups.  Prospective converts in North Africa would most likely face severe ostracism and persecution from family and friends.  The strong ethno-religious ties of Arabs to Islam present a nearly insurmountable barrier for Latter-day Saints at present due to a lack of Muslim-oriented missionary approaches, the absence of indigenous Latter-day Saint communities in most nations, and societal intolerance of Christian missionary activity and conversion from Islam.  In Cyprus, greater tolerance of religious minorities exists than in most nations in the region, yet social barriers dissuade many Greek Cypriots from learning about or joining the Church.  Greek Cypriots who join the Church often face ostracism from family and the community as they are no longer considered Greek due to their identification with a non-Orthodox religious group.   Continued expansion LDS humanitarian and development work throughout the region may increase awareness of the Church, foster positive public opinions, and improve relations with governments.  The Church has made adjustments to the day of worship for LDS congregations in most nations in the region.  In most Muslim-majority nations, LDS worship services are held on Fridays, the Islamic day of worship whereas in Israel LDS congregations worship on Saturday in accordance with the traditional Jewish Sabbath.

Several cultural attributes complement LDS teachings, including the importance on the traditional family unit, low substance abuse rates in most nations, and the value and emphasis placed on religion in society.  The cosmopolitan atmosphere of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates generates a more accepting and less-oppressive environment for LDS Church activities to occur in harmony with local laws.  Consequently the LDS Church has experienced some of its greatest growth in the region in these nations as receptivity as been highest among Christian foreigners.  The large number of foreign Christians provides for some limited missionary activity through member referral, especially among Filipinos.  Regarding indigenous populations, receptivity appears highest among some traditional Christian groups in the Near East and Kurds, although no concentrated LDS outreach efforts have occurred among Kurds to date. The high degree of religious pluralism in Lebanon provides an unmatched cultural opportunity in the Middle East for missionary activity by member referral.  An established native Lebanese Latter-day Saint community provides some fellowship and strength in the mist of potential societal ostracism and suspicion. 

Some common cultural practices in the region oppose LDS teachings, including widespread tea and coffee drinking, the chewing of qat in Yemen, and the practice of polygamy.  Those practicing polygamy who desire to be baptized must end polygamous marriages in divorce and get interviewed by a member of the mission or area presidency; however this issue is largely moot as no proselytism is permitted among Muslims.

National Outreach

The LDS Church performs no official missionary activity in the Middle East and North Africa with the exception of Cyprus and Turkey.  Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey appear to be the only countries in the region in which the Church permits local members to perform missionary activity among indigenous Christians on a self-referral or member-referral basis.  Some limited member-missionary activity occurs in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates solely among nonnative Christians principally from North America, Europe, East Asia, the Philippines, and South Asia.  The populations of Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Yemen are completely unreached by the Church with the exception of close associations a few individuals may have to members in the country.  The LDS Church in Israel operates several congregations but does not participate in active missionary programs.  Local individuals are not barred from attending church meetings however.

There are many reasons for the extremely limited level of outreach performed by the LDS Church in the Middle East and North Africa, including the small number of active LDS members in the region, indigenous Latter-day Saints consisting of only a handful or a few individuals in most nations, the preponderance of members from North America, Europe, and the Philippines who do not speak the languages of many local Christians, limited member-missionary participation, government and societal restrictions on proselytism, church policies dissuading members from proselytism in nations in which proselytism is permitted, low receptivity due to strong ethno-religious ties to traditional faiths, bans on distributing religious literature, challenges obtaining foreign missionary visas, war, ethnic violence, and political instability.  The lack of LDS teaching and proselytism approaches tailored to the cultural needs of populations in the region has further challenged efforts for the Church to expand national outreach for decades.

11% of the regional population resides in a city with an LDS congregation but nearly all are unreached due to government restrictions and church policy on proselytism.  44% of the population in Cyprus resides in a city with an LDS congregation.  Currently established LDS congregations would reach up to 88% the population in Kuwait, 80% in Qatar, 75% in Lebanon, 47% in the United Arab Emirates, 33% in Oman, 25% in Iraq, 22% in Bahrain and Turkey, 21% in Jordan, 18% in Morocco, 16% in Israel, 10% in Egypt, 8% in Syria, 7% in Tunisia, and 1% in Palestine if active missionary programs were pursued.  The highly urbanized populations of several nations benefits efforts to expand national outreach as fewer congregations are required to reach the national population of individual countries. 

Over 1.5 million individuals of Algerian descent live in France.  There are over one million North Africans in Italy.  Some North Africans have joined the LDS Church in Europe; however, few return home due to low standards of living, high unemployment, and an oppressive environment toward Christians.  There are millions of Turks residing in continental Europe in nations with widespread LDS outreach, but there have been no concentrated efforts by the Church to reach Turks in Europe.  Iranians have lacked consistent LDS mission efforts over the past several decades due to the closure of the Iran Tehran Mission and changing policies regarding the baptism of former Muslims in different areas of the world.  In the late 2000s, the California Anaheim Mission began a Farsi-language Sunday School and proselytism efforts targeting Farsi speakers in the Anaheim area.  Returned missionaries report that efforts targeting Farsi-speakers were brought to a halt by regional Church leadership who deemed proselytism efforts among Iranians were too dangerous at the time.  Returned missionaries further elaborated that currently mission president approval must be granted to distribute Farsi Latter-day Saint materials to Iranians in the California Anaheim Mission.  However, these restrictions have not applied to ordinary members in the Church.  In the late 2010s, missionaries serving in Toronto, Canada reported coordinated efforts to reach Iranians through Farsi-speaking full-time missionaries.

LDS internet outreach may be able to reach some North Africans and populations in the Middle East who cannot be reached by traditional methods.  Farsi-speaking LDS members have created Internet-outreach websites containing Farsi LDS language materials, such as http://www.farsimormon.com/.  In 2010, these sites appear to be the only written Farsi-language LDS materials available on the Internet.  Internet sites maintained by Turkish members living inside and outside Turkey have been instrumental in bringing some Turks into the Church.  Several Egyptian Latter-day Saint converts initially learned about the Church through websites created by Arabic-speaking LDS converts.  As of mid-2011 there have been no official LDS websites in Arabic or other languages indigenous to the region.  Official Arabic language materials online are limited to translations of General Conference addresses.  The Church provides contact information for its Middle East/Africa North Area desk at Church headquarters online on its meetinghouse locator website and is the only means to make contact with the local Church in most areas of the Middle East and North Africa unless through personal association with branch members. 

In the Gulf States, many expatriates have only limited contact with native peoples and often tend to socialize primarily with other expatriates, resulting in few opportunities for sharing the gospel with native peoples. Local and area LDS leadership may have instituted restrictions regarding how, when and where members may speak and teach non-members about the Church to respect local cultural sensitivities.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Most convert baptisms in the Middle East and North Africa appear to occur in the Gulf States among Filipinos, North Americans, Europeans, and South Asians.  There have only been a handful of convert baptisms in the Near East and Turkey but some of these convert baptisms have been among the indigenous population.  No LDS convert baptisms occur in Israel and converts desiring to join the Church must travel outside the country to receive baptism.  Few if any Arabs appear to have joined the Church in the Gulf States.  No convert baptisms appear to have occurred in most nations in North Africa. 

LDS converts from indigenous ethnic groups who have joined the Church in the region generally demonstrate a high degree of devotion and dedication to the Church due to the challenges of overcoming societal and government pressures to conform to traditional religious groups in the region.  Consequently, many native LDS converts develop a strong testimony, regular church attendance, and other personal religious habits prior to baptism.  The lack of LDS mission outreach in the region due to government restrictions and church policy on proselytism in predominantly-Muslim nations significantly reduces prospects for baptizing greater numbers of converts at present.  A lack of LDS outreach approaches tailored to those with a Muslim background or to traditional Christian groups like Egyptian Copts may impede efforts to maintain moderate to high rates of convert retention in years to come if missionary activity in the region becomes more widespread.  Member activity rates for the LDS Church in North Africa and the Middle East are representative of North America and Western Europe largely due to these populations accounting for the majority of church membership in the region.  Activity rates in the region primarily reflect the strength, doctrinal understanding, and habits of church attendance of the nations from which members relocated, with higher activity rates among North Americans and Western Europeans and lower activity rates among Latinos and Eastern Europeans.  Filipinos appear to have higher member activity rates in the Middle East than in their home country largely due to members and converts seeking social interaction in a foreign country.

Many factors have contributed to member activity and convert attrition challenges in the region.  Due to the sensitive nature of the Church in many countries in the region, membership records are difficult to update and keep accurate as finding less active or inactive members is very difficult or impossible.  Many members are unaware of an LDS Church presence in some countries or are unable to find an LDS church due to a lack of information on meetinghouse locations and worship times due to the sensitive nature of the Church in some countries.  Distance to LDS meetinghouses can reduce member activity rates due to long travel times and travel costs for members residing far from church meeting locations.  Some congregations like the Kuwait Branch are tight-knit which may make church participation difficult for members or investigators who do not feel that they fit in.  In some countries in the region like Lebanon war, heavy emigration, and turbulent economic conditions have reduced member activity and convert retention.  Past conflicts in Lebanon have resulted in many losing contact with the Church.  In Jordan, the Church has attempted to maintain a delicate balance in providing economic assistance to local converts in need without attracting converts who join the Church just to obtain financial assistance.  Several have joined the Church for welfare purposes in Jordan and are inactive today.  Poor ethnic relations between native converts from differing ethnic groups has occurred in some nations, resulting in some leaving the Church.  Most nations in the region lack a community of local Latter-day Saint converts, seriously challenging efforts to attract greater numbers of converts and retain the few converts who join the Church as they have no social support system aside from expatriate members in some locations.  The few native Latter-day Saints from North Africa who have been baptized elsewhere and returned to their home countries likely experience low member activity rates due the lack of organized LDS congregations, societal pressures to conform to Islam, and perceived threats from terrorist groups.  Some of these societal and governmental pressures to revert back to Islam can be a source of irregular church attendance for LDS converts in Egypt.  In areas like the West Bank, isolation from the bulk of church membership in Israel through strict border regulations and limited contact with area church leadership pose challenges for members to attend church meetings and live gospel teachings.  Diligent home teachers in the Jerusalem Branch visited Arab Palestinian LDS families in Bethlehem in 2009 to offer encouragement, teaching, and support as they were unable to cross over the Israeli border to attend church meetings in Jerusalem.  Eastern Asians constitute most converts in Cyprus.  These members are more transient and challenge the Church's efforts to build self-sustaining local congregations when they return to their home countries or relocate elsewhere.  Convert retention in Cyprus appears modest as activity rates have declined over the past two decades due to these issues and quick-baptism tactics employed among immigrant groups and migrant workers.  Emphasis from local leaders on institute and seminary attendance can help ameliorate some of these issues and strengthen doctrinal understanding and testimony building. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

LDS membership in nearly all countries in the region is not representative of the general population due to the influx of foreign membership on military assignment or temporary employment, proselytism bans, and low receptivity to the LDS Church among indigenous populations.  At present ethnic integration issues in the LDS Church are most apparent between Westerners and South and East Asians due to language barriers and differences in culture.  The Church has addressed these issues in areas with sizeable LDS membership by organizing language-specific congregations and dependent branches or groups and in other areas with more limited membership by providing translations of church services when available and holding language-specific Sunday School classes.  Appointing members from differing ethnic groups to leadership positions in the same congregation has also appeared to have facilitate ethnic integration in some congregations, such as the Kuwait Branch.  Greater religious freedom in the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus, Qatar, and Bahrain for foreigners offers opportunities for outreach among Christians and the establishment of additional congregations. 

Tribalism and clan-identity is a major challenge for several countries in North Africa and the Middle East in maintaining national stability.  The LDS Church may experience challenges of  indigenous members from rival ethnic, clan, or tribal groups attending the same congregation if LDS outreach occurs one day.  In North Africa, Arabs and Berber peoples have integrated into society due to intermarriage and shared culture and legacy, but clan identity remains an ethnic integration issue.  Although considerably more ethnic diversity exists in Iran compared to other nations in the Middle East, little ethnic violence or conflict has occurred.  This stability and relative interethnic harmony may result in greater ease in the assimilation of LDS converts into the same congregations.  Both Persians and Azeris are Shiites; minority groups from other ethnic backgrounds and religions experience less tolerance.  Severe ethnic conflict occurs in Iraq, Sudan, Mauritania, and Palestine.  Potential LDS outreach in these nations may require ethnic-specific congregations to facilitate member activity and retention issues if ethnic conflict is manifest in Church.  Ethnic integration issues in Jordan have been a major challenge among the small native Latter-day Saint population despite relatively little ethnic diversity in Jordan.  These issues occurred primarily in the mid-2000s in Irbid as a result of several Christian Iraqi refugees joining the Church.  Some Jordanian members, who do not appear active today, so heavily persecuted these Iraqi converts that they returned back to Iraq in 2007. 

Higher receptivity among some indigenous ethnic minority groups, immigrants, and expatriates has contributed to an ethnic imbalance in LDS congregations in most nations.  Many converts from East Asia have joined the Church in Cyprus and very few Greek and Turkish Cypriots have joined the Church, resulting in Chinese comprising a large portion of membership in Cyprus.  Higher receptivity among some traditionally-Christian ethnic groups such as Armenians in the Near East has in the past led to LDS congregations principally comprising of ethnic minority groups.  The LDS Church in Israel is unique regarding the diverse demographic composition of its tiny membership as congregations do not appear to have any ethnic majority.  Members report that the Latter-day Saints in Israel consist of Americans, Spanish-speakers, Russians, ethnic Jews, Arabs, Brazilians, and others.  There are a large number of immigrant or migrant worker Filipino Latter-day Saints in congregations in Jerusalem and Galilee.[94]

Language Issues

LDS worship services are primarily conducted in English in the region.  Tagalog or Cebuano appear to be commonly used by Filipino members in some Gulf States and some congregations are specifically designated for Filipino members in order to meet language needs, such as the Doha 2nd Branch in Qatar.  Only a handful of congregations meet the needs of Arabic speakers, such as the Beirut Branch in Lebanon and the North Jordan Branch in Jordan.  Some congregations have faced significant challenges meeting the needs of English speakers and Arabic speakers in the past, such as the Amman Branch.  Similar challenges have also occurred in Turkey among Turkish speakers, English speakers, and speakers of Eastern European languages.  The LDS Church in Israel faces significant challenges meeting the language needs of members despite the tiny size of LDS membership as in 2007, LDS services in the Galilee Branch were conducted and translated into English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Russian[95] and in English, Russian, and Spanish in Tel Aviv.  LDS services in currently unreached countries in the region will most likely have their initial worship services and missionary activity conducted in English, French, Arabic, Persian, or Turkish.    

Low literacy rates throughout the region, especially among women, is a major challenge for prospective missionary activity as many cannot read LDS scriptures and materials, seriously limiting their ability to grow their testimonies and learn about the Church individually.  Illiteracy also generates challenges for developing self-sustaining leadership and maintaining member activity rates due to challenges in studying the gospel.  Literacy programs sponsored by the LDS Church may improve literacy rates, strengthen positive relations with local and regional governments, and provide an opportunity for proselytism that is culturally appropriate.

The Church has yet to translate all LDS scriptures into Farsi and Turkish notwithstanding both languages have over 50 million native speakers worldwide.  There are no LDS materials in any Berber languages and no LDS materials in differing Arabic dialects.  Very few if any Latter-day Saints speak Berber languages or the many Arabic dialects and LDS proselytism is not permitted in regions where these languages are spoken creating a barrier for prospective translations of LDS materials in these languages and dialects.  Kurdish appears to be the language with the greatest potential for use and application of LDS materials among languages without LDS materials in the region at present due to recent successes among many outreach-oriented Christian groups among Kurdish speakers.  Azerbaijani is a favorable candidate for future translations of LDS scriptures and materials as it is the language with the tenth most speakers worldwide without LDS materials. There are no Hebrew translations of LDS scriptures or materials.  The Church has not granted permission for the translation of LDS scriptures and materials into Hebrew.  Hebrew-speaking Latter-day Saints must use other language materials.

Missionary Service

Non-expatriate Latter-day Saints appear to have only served missions in the past decade from Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon as these are the among the only countries in the region with small groups of indigenous Latter-day Saints.  Expatriate members from the region regularly serve full-time missions.  Very few missionaries have been assigned to North Africa and the Middle East and almost exclusively consist of senior humanitarian couple missionaries and senior public affairs couple missionaries.  Proselytizing LDS missionaries are assigned to Cyprus as open proselytism is permitted and the majority of the population is Christian.  A handful of Iranians living outside their homeland have served LDS missions despite the limited numbers of Iranian members.  Returned missionaries provide a valuable source of future leadership for when the Church conducts Iranian-directed proselytism outside Iran.  Prospects for increasing the number of indigenous local members serving full-time missions is poor due to few LDS youth and bans on proselytism and mission outreach.  Due to the lack of mission-aged members, member-missionary work is critical in the finding of prospective mission-aged converts.  The introduction of seminary and institute may facilitate greater activity and participation in addition to providing opportunities for member-missionary work.  Performing youth-directed outreach among local Christians may be an effective means of attracting more youth converts who can serve full-time missions in Jordan and Lebanon. 

Leadership

LDS leadership in the Middle East and North Africa is almost entirely comprised of nonnative members from Europe, North America, the Philippines, and South Asia.  Only Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey appear to have had any local members serve in a leadership position in their native country over the past decade.  Local leadership in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Gulf States is self-sustaining notwithstanding no indigenous converts holding leadership positions as expatriate populations are large and stable.  Expatriate populations are often itinerant as most reside in the region temporarily for employment, which can lead to challenges calling new leadership and keeping track of less-active members and new converts.  Steady congregational growth during the 2000s in the United Arab Emirates has arisen as a result of adequate active priesthood manpower to staff additional congregations.  Non-Western members from Asia have held leadership positions in Cyprus and Qatar.  Prospects for developing native leadership in North Africa and the Middle East are poor as there are few Arab members in the region, laws and societal attitudes prevent open proselytism, and language barriers between expatriate leaders and the few Arabic-speaking Latter-day Saints create major challenges in teaching and training Arab membership notwithstanding several leadership materials available in Arabic.  The LDS Church in countries with no sizeable expatriate LDS populations will likely rely on humanitarian missionaries to staff local leadership if assigned by the Church and will play an important role in mentoring future indigenous leaders.  The establishment of indigenous leadership in the region will be critical in developing self sufficiency and laying a foundation for future growth if receptivity increases.  Language barriers may warrant the segregation of expatriate members and local members when membership size is sufficient and could provide for greater leadership experience for indigenous membership. 

Temple

North Africa, the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Iraq are assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district whereas Cyprus, Jordan, and Lebanon are assigned to the London England Temple district, Israel and Turkey are assigned to the Bern Switzerland Temple district, Mauritania and Western Sahara are assigned to the Accra Ghana Temple district, and Sudan is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  Reasons for the Church assigning countries to different European and African LDS temples is primarily due to the composition of LDS membership in each respective country, the lack of an official church presence in some cases, and the ease of obtaining visas and proper documentation to attend the temple.  Temple trips for members in the Middle East and North Africa are costly, time consuming, and infrequent or do not occur at all.  Western membership in the region attends the temple most frequently whereas many indigenous members have not attended the temple before due to time and financial constraints and difficulty in obtaining visas.  The lack of Arabic-speaking members in Europe is a major challenge for Arabic-speaking members in the Middle East and North Africa to attend temples in Europe.  Once completed, the Rome Italy Temple may service many countries in the region.  The Church may one day construct a small temple in the United Arab Emirates due to a well-established community of expatriates capable of supporting a stake, four wards, and two branches in the country and greater religious freedom for Christians in the United Arab Emirates than in most countries in the region.     

Comparative Growth

The Middle East and North Africa are among the least reached regions in the world by LDS missionary efforts as formal LDS proselytism only occurs in Cyprus and Istanbul, Turkey.  Government restrictions barring missionary activity in most countries are among the most severe in the world and prevent the Church from publishing meeting locations and times if many nations.  The percentage of the regional population residing in cities with LDS congregations is higher in the Middle East and North Africa (11%) than Central Asia (5%) and South Asia (4%) but local populations are lesser-reached in the Middle East and North Africa than in Central and South Asia due to proselytism restrictions.  Member activity rates are among the highest worldwide largely due to the overrepresented North American and European populations temporarily residing in the region.  Missionary and church activity for the LDS Church in the Middle East and North Africa have been disrupted more frequently than other missions and most nations have had an LDS presence for a shorter period of time than nations in other world regions.  Like Central Asia, local members provide an extremely limited amount of missionary manpower.  Congregational and membership growth rates have been among the most rapid in the world in recent years due to expatriates, migrant workers, and military personnel relocating or being stationed in the region.

Nearly all major non-traditional, outreach-oriented Christian groups report more members and congregations in the Middle East and North African than Latter-day Saints.  Many of these groups have established small communities among indigenous populations notwithstanding cultural barriers and government restrictions.  The percentage of Westerners among church membership in the region appears higher for Latter-day Saints than any other missionary-focused Christian group.  Latter-day Saints appear to experience higher membership and congregational growth rates than most other Christian groups largely due to the high rate of emigration of local Christians in the region to Western Europe and North America. 

Future Prospects

The outlook for future LDS Church growth in the Middle East is mixed as receptivity among nonnative populations is fair and increases in expatriate Latter-day Saints in many nations  continue to occur although receptivity among indigenous populations is low, there are no culturally-adapted LDS teaching and proselytism approaches, and very few Arabs and other indigenous ethnic groups have joined the Church in recent years.  Political instability in the Near East limits outreach among nations in which some limited missionary activity can occur among the indigenous Christian population, such as in Jordan and Lebanon, and the tiny size of LDS communities in these nations offer no significant outreach potential at present.  The outlook for growth in North Africa is poor due to a nearly nonexistent Latter-day Saint community, severe government restrictions, and the strong ethno-religious ties of the population to Islam.  There are no realistic opportunities for LDS outreach in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Sudan, Syria, Western Sahara, and Yemen.  When possible, expanding humanitarian and development work in these nations combined with mission outreach to North Africans in Europe and Arabs and other Middle Eastern peoples elsewhere may lay the foundation for some future growth in the years to come.  In many Gulf States, greater religious freedom provides meaningful potential for future growth, although considerable vision and effort will be needed to harness this potential as full-time missionaries are unlikely to be assigned for the foreseeable future, government restrictions limit open proselytism in most areas, and cultural attitudes oppose conversion from Islam to Christianity.  Additional congregations will likely be organized in the Gulf States in the coming years and may include language-specific congregations for Filipinos.  Ethnic integration challenges will likely continue in Turkey and the Near East due to ethnic conflict and language barriers.  In Iraq, the existing LDS Church infrastructure is largely artificial to meet the needs of military personal and an LDS presence may entirely vanish following the removal of American military personnel.  The establishment of indigenous Latter-day Saint communities among indigenous peoples will be required for greater stability and investment in long-term growth for the Church in the region.    


[1] "Saudi Arabia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127357.htm

[2]  "Israel and the Occupied Territories," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148825.htm

[3] "Cyprus," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127305.htm

[4]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[5]  "Syria," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010 . http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148845.htm

[6]  "Israel and the Occupied Territories," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148825.htm

[7] "Qatar," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127356.htm

[8]  "Iran," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127347.htm

[9]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[10]  "Lebanon," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127352.htm

[11]  "Bahrain," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127345.htm

[12] "Cyprus," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127305.htm

[13]  "Lebanon," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127352.htm

[14] "Oman," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127355.htm

[15]  "Israel and the Occupied Territories," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148825.htm

[16]  "Turkey," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/130299.htm

[17] "United Arab Emirates," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127360.htm

[18]  "Algeria," International Religious Freedom Report 2009," 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127344.htm

[19]  "Egypt," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127346.htm

[20]  "Iran," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127347.htm

[21]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[22] "Israel and the Occupied Territories," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148825.htm

[23]  "Jordan," International Religious Freedom  Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127350.htm

[24]  "Kuwait," International Religious Freedom Report 2009," 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127351.htm

[25]  "Libya," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148832.htm

[26]  "Mauritania," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127244.htm

[27]  "Morocco," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127354.htm

[28] "Qatar," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127356.htm

[29] "Saudi Arabia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127357.htm

[30]  "Sudan," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148722.htm

[31]  "Syria," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010 . http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148845.htm

[32]  "Tunisia," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148847.htm

[33]  "Yemen," LDS Church News, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127361.htm

[34]  "Historical chronology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," 8 February 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58765/Historical-chronology-of-The-Church-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Latter-day-Saints.html

[35]  Hart, John L.  "Faith overcomes evil of World War II, leads to growth worldwide, 19 August 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/25854/Faith-overcomes-evil-of-World-War-II-leads-to-growth-worldwide.html

[36]  "Comment," Ensign, Dec 1974, 68

[37]  "Elder Wirthlin dedicates the island of Cyprus for preaching of gospel," LDS Church News, 27 November 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23399/Elder-Wirthlin-dedicates-the-island-of-Cyprus-for-preaching-of--gospel.html

[38]  "The Church in Europe", Ensign, Aug. 1973, 16-35

[39]  "The Church in Europe", Ensign, Aug. 1973, 16-35

[40]  "Comment," Ensign, Dec 1979, 66

[41]  "Comment", Ensign, June 1974, 47

[42]  "Iran," Global Mormonism, retrieved 28 August 2010.  http://globalmormonism.byu.edu/?page_id=82

[43]  "Turkey," Country Profiles, retrieved 20 March 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/turkey

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