Egypt and the Arab Spring
The Bible Indicates the Roles to be Played by many of the Middle Eastern Countries
June 8, 2012 - Audio, 12.00 MIN
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Welcome to the Bible in the News with Nick Barnes. When Hosni Mubarak was forced from the office, of Egyptian president, in Febuary 2011, it was widely seen as a popular revolution where pro-democracy demonstrators had overthrown an oppressive dictator. However, in reality, these libertarians never made up a large portion of the population, with the protests never exceeding more than 1% of the populace, and even that 1% was a mix of various opinions, including a large proportion of Islamists.
In fact Mubarak’s fall was precipitated by the lack of support from the army. It was when the army made it clear that they were not going to suppress the uprising - and we saw pictures of protestors sitting with soldiers on their tanks and armoured vehicles - that Mubarak’s position became untenable.
It is often supposed that this inactivity, was due to the ordinary soldier’s unwillingness to fire on his fellow Egyptian; and that he had more affinity with the rebels than with his superiors in the military. However this disengagement was not due to mutiny in the ranks, but was policy from the generals down.
The willingness, of the chiefs of staff, to see their leader deposed, arose from Mubarak’s insistence that his younger son would succeed him. The beneficiary of this planned succession, was Gamal Mubarak, a non-military man, committed to breaking the military’s grip on both economic and political power. His ascendancy was a direct threat to the authority of Egypt’s senior generals, and the Arab spring protests provided them with the means to avoid disaster.
In contrast, the limits of the influence and popular power of secular liberals is demonstrated by the results of Egyptian elections thus far. Rather than appointing democrats to the new People’s Assembly of Egypt, the populace have chosen to empower the Islamists of the Freedom & Justice Party and Al-Nour. Likewise in the ongoing presidential elections, the first round has eliminated all pro-democracy candidates. A liberal, democratic, Egypt, is not even in the running. Instead, the 2nd round run off, of the two most popular candidates, is between the Muslim Brotherhood nominee, Mohammed Mursi, and, believe it or not, the former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq.
So the populace of Egypt have not chosen freedom and democracy to replace repression and tyranny. Instead they have narrowed their choice to more of the same or an Islamist government, likely to impose Sharia law.
This popular support for the previous prime minister, and close confidant of President Mubarak, underlines the naivety of western observers who have expected the Arab Spring to replace military regimes with liberal, western style, democracies. And in fact, General Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is the current ruler of Egypt, and almost certain to retain a great deal of, behind the scenes, power.
The Bible, of course, indicates the roles to be played by many of the Middle Eastern countries, including those most affected by the Arab Spring. Egypt itself is mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible, and is set before us as a wealthy land, where food was abundant. Both Abram and Jacob went there when famine afflicted the Levant. The faithless of the children of Israel desired to return there, citing the fruits of that land as fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlick. In fact Egypt was the bread basket of the Ancient World; with its grain production guaranteed by the regularity of the flood cycle of the River Nile.
But it was also the land of bondage; with an economy that was based on slavery. Hagar was an Egyptian slave girl, and Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were forced en-masse into slavery, and even the Egyptian, who David found dying, when he was pursuing the Amalekites, was a slave. And it seems, that even in the modern world, the Egyptians still embrace the same kind of oppression, for themselves, when given the choice.
But in Egypt of old, slavery did not end at her borders. She also dominated and oppressed the countries round about. For centuries, the levantine peoples gave toll, custom and tribute to her. But in Ezekiel 29, God promised to end this power to oppress her neighbours. In this chapter, God first describes how war would come upon Egypt, and the Egyptians would become refugees from their own country. However in v14-16 we read
14* And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom.
15 It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.
So God promised that Egyptians would be restored to their own land, but they would also cease to have the great power that they had enjoyed for millennia, and would be a “base kingdom”; and that this humbling, would be for always; Egypt would “no more rule over the nations” “neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations”.
Now in the time of Ezekiel, the pyramids, the sphinx and the great temples, were already ancient wonders. The enduring magnificence and might of Egypt would have seemed certain to continue. And yet God, through the prophet, predicted that it would shortly become a base nation, never to rise again.
And so it has been; the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Turks and the British, have all exploited Egypt’s wealth. And today, the former bread basket of the world, has to import most of its food and its people live on an average income of US$7 per day.
They are a base nation, and will remain so, as the Scriptures say. Their own people are oppressed, and seem to be willing to have it so.
Ezekiel 29 continues in v16
16 And it [ie Egypt] shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
And Israel, in Bible times, was a small country crushed between to oppressing powers - the king of the north and the king of the south - the latter being Egypt. They were rebuked on multiple occasions for putting their trust in this king of the south, to save them from the northern power - whether that be Assyria or Babylon or some later power - when they ought to have but their trust in their creator. And Egypt’s humbling, Ezekiel tells us, ensured that Egypt will “be no more the confidence of the house of Israel”.
Of course, in all of this Arab Spring, there has been one, western style, liberal democracy, which has been, to say the least, ambivalent when it comes to hopes of a democratic Middle East in general and a democratic Egypt in particular. That country is of course Israel. She is well aware that power to the people, in an Arab country, means even more anti-semitism. If anyone is sorry to see the back of Mubarak, it is the country that bought peace with Egypt in exchange for the Sinai peninsular, and the oil wells, holiday resorts and towns that Israel had developed there.
It is interesting therefore, that when the Bible speaks of a great battle, called in the book of Revelation “the Battle of Armageddon”, it involves not only a great northern confederacy, but also the Middle Eastern countries of Iran, Libya and Ethiopia (Eze 38v5, Dan 11v40-45 & Zech 14). In the fray, there are also Arab countries which oppose this invasion. They are described as “Sheba and Dedan” (Eze 38v13). These nations are from the area of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Egypt too gets a particular mention in Dan 11v42-43 as a land that “shall not escape”. Certainly it is not amongst those who, in this battle, seek the destruction of Israel, in fact it seems that Egypt is a particular focus of the ire of both the king of the north, and its Libyan and Ethiopian allies. Perhaps this may indicate, that the peace deal with Israel, authored by Sadat and maintained by Mubarak, may continue to hold. It is a peace deal that is hated by the people and by the Islamists, but if the army continue to hold sway, then it may yet last a little longer.
Each of these countries have their part yet to play. Some, such as Iran, Ethiopia and Libya, will, no doubt, be stirred by anti-semitism to join with the king of the north to destroy Israel, and massacre two thirds of her population (Zech 13v8) - and perhaps democracy will be the vehicle to amplify that anti-semitism. Others take a part with the western nations, and challenge the invader with “art thou come to take a spoil?” (Eze 38v13). Some of these details, of course, we may not know for sure until they actually happen, but even so, in the process we will be able to recognise God’s hand at work. See you again next week, God willing, at BibleInTheNews.com.
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