EARLY EASTERN CHRITIAN GEOGRAPHY
By Brother John Samaha

The geographic areas where Eastern Christianity originated and developed historically have been termed the Near East, the Middle East, and the Maghreb.  Today the expression Middle East will often be used to identify a cultural region including the full sweep of  Southwest Asia and North Africa.

Although the Maghreb, Africa north of the Sahara, is not generally considered part of the Near East or Middle East, the history and Arab character of nations like Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia place it logically, if not geographically, in this purview or context.  These countries relate closely to the sates of the Middle East since they share much of the same history and culture and problems.  They are integral to the history of the early church as it spread along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  Unfortunately they share the decline of Christianity with the entire region as well.
In the Maghreb (Arab northern Africa), Algeria is the second largest country on the African continent, while the smallest is Tunisia, where the ancient city of Carthage was the gateway through which Christianity moved in the third century. Among the early Christian leaders in this region were such luminaries as Augustine, Cyprian, and Tertullian.

Originally the Christian populations of these countries were considerable.  Today they are relatively small across the entire area.  And the Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian Christians far outnumber the Catholic Christians.
Today population numbers and statistics are often estimates.  Census taking is infrequent and generally imprecise.  Frequently percentages are mentioned to facilitate broad comparisons and to signal certain trends.  Churches often lack the capacity to take an accurate account of the scattered flocks.  Seeking exact statistics may lead to disappointment.
Christian families tend to be smaller that their Muslim counterparts. For Christians, even slight emigration can result in a serious loss in percentages.  Social scientists who study emigration trends agree that emigrants leave the Middle East to seek educational and economic opportunities generally are from the middle class.  The historical Christian commitment to quality education seems to encourage emigration.