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The Arab Revolutions: which way now?

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The Arab Revolutions: which way now?

Country/Region: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco

Article Index

The Arab Revolutions: which wa...

The role of Islam

Variety in the Arab world

The role of the West

What of the churches?

Footnotes

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Revolutions are dangerous, unpredictable events[1]

The protests sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa are shaking the established order and reverberating throughout the Muslim world. Arabs have been suffering greatly from the region's economic, social and political failings, which include oppression, injustice, corruption and discrimination. Authoritarian police states with all-powerful and unaccountable security services, large-scale unemployment, massive gaps between rich and poor, callous and corrupt autocracies, bureaucracies that treat citizens with indignity and contempt - all these have fuelled popular grievances, anger and frustration.

The modern electronic media revolution has deprived governments of their monopoly over the news and has empowered many ordinary citizens. The Arab masses are now expressing their yearnings for individual freedoms, justice and accountability, democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties. For the first time they have breached and broken the barrier of fear imposed by their rulers, and many are exhilarated by the resulting freedom and empowerment. Established leaders such as Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen and Bashar al-Assad of Syria have faced, and some are still facing, demands for their removal from power. The Western media have hailed the protests as an "Arab Spring".

Tunisia revolution protest
Demonstrators face police lines on Aveunue Bourguiba, Central Tunis
CC BY 2.0 by cjb22
Yet several of the revolutions have faltered and stalled. The two states that first experienced mass protests, Tunisia and Egypt, have entered an ambiguous transition phase as the forces of change confront the old ruling classes, who are intent on clinging to power and privilege. Elsewhere, in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Libya, the leadership is hanging on (at the time of writing), through violent suppression of protest coupled with offers of reform. Getting rid of dictators does not necessarily produce democracy. Old leaders have left, but the underlying political systems have not been overthrown.

The protest waves are also increasing the dangers posed by other destructive social forces in the area: regionalism, tribalism, sectarianism and radical Islamism. The divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and between Muslims and Christians, are particularly severe and have the potential to generate serious disorder and violence. The old regimes have largely succeeded in separating religion and the state and in countering the threat posed by political Islam. Their fall may dissolve the boundary between the religious and the secular altogether and lead to the establishing of Islamic states.

Even the Western media, which at first attributed the revolutions only to a popular desire for secular and democratic states, have quietly admitted their mistake. The New York Times says:

In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes. It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force - at least not at the moment.[2]

The consequences for Christians of the current upheavals are hard to predict in detail, but they are likely to be serious and possibly harmful. Perhaps the worst scenario is that Islamism seizes control of the various revolutions, imposes a much stricter Islamic character on politics and society in each country, and suppresses the local Christian minorities. Were this to happen, the very survival of Christianity across the entire region would be in jeopardy.

In this article we consider the general role of Islam in the Arab revolutions, and how this is worked out in the very different conditions of the various countries involved, including the place of the churches. We also look at the ambiguous and sometimes unhelpful involvement of the West in the movements for change, and the possible future for the churches.

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  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 11 hours ago

  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

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