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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 that as believers in some areas of Egypt continue to be at risk of violence from Islamists, Barnabas Fund is able to provide various kinds of practical help for needy Christians there, especially those most affected by the political turmoil. We are supporting Christian families in Upper Egypt with housing costs, medicines, food and schooling for their children, and 30 Christian students who were on the verge of dropping out of education because of lack of money have received funding to complete their education. Pray for all those receiving this help, that they will also be encouraged spiritually. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 3 hours ago

    • Give thanks that the authorities in Egypt are pursuing justice for the Christian community following widespread violence against them by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer. Christians were scapegoated by the Islamists for the downfall of President Mohammed Morsi. On 14 August, mobs torched scores of churches, Christian institutions and private property in what was described as the worst single day of violence against the Egyptian Church since the 14th century. Over 100 Muslims have been charged in connection with the attacks; at the time of writing they were due to stand trial for rioting, attacking citizens and targeting the churches and homes of Christians. Pray that justice will be done and restitution made to churches and individuals who suffered material losses. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Jul 2014 00:00

    • “I was so happy and treasure this Word of God. It brings me so much peace and hope.” Uu Dee KoMang, an elderly woman in Burma (Myanmar), was one of many Christians who recently received a Kachin Bible through Barnabas Fund. Two years ago the Burmese army entered her village and ordered everyone to leave within the hour. Uu Dee took some clothes and food and ran, but her Bible was too heavy to carry. Now living in a relocation camp, she regretted not taking it, until the Bibles from Barnabas arrived. Pray that God’s Word will comfort and strengthen these believers who have lost so much and will give them encouragement for the future. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Pray for three Christian prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who are being denied access to Bibles and other sources of spiritual support. Prison guards in Hanoi and Thanh Hoa province have refused to allow Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer and activist, and bloggers Maria To Phong Tan and Paul Tran Minh Nhat to receive visits from their church leaders and have prevented them from receiving Communion. Maria is serving a ten-year prison sentence in a harsh labour camp; she has been beaten by other inmates. Pray that the Lord will sustain and build up the faith of our brothers and sister as they cry out to Him in their need (Psalm 142:6). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Five ethnic Hmong Christian families in Vietnam have been attacked by their neighbours in attempts to get them to renounce their faith. On 26 February, Hang A Khua and his family were ordered to recant by public security officers, backed by around 30 villagers from Trun Phu in Dien Bien province; when they refused, the officers ordered the villagers to attack them. The mob ransacked and demolished the family’s house; their rice fields were confiscated, and they were expelled from the district. In Son La province, four more Christian families were similarly threatened in March. One couple were attacked in their home; they were kicked and punched, and the wife was dragged out of the house by her hair. Give thanks for these families’ courageous stand for Christ and pray that they will find strength in Him. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Jul 2014 00:00

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