The remarkable events occurring across North Africa and the Middle East are a turning point in world history. They may prove to be as momentous for the Arab Muslim world as the Reformation was to Europe, the Americas, and Christianity in the sixteenth century.
There are many differences, but a major one stands out. The Christian Reformation was spearheaded by a few men and the simple idea that “the just shall live by faith”—not by works. In contrast, the Arab uprising is virtually leaderless, a spontaneous revolt of common people against decades of tyranny.
Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt across North Africa, and Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and even Iran in the Middle East are facing thousands demanding democratic reforms, higher wages, and cheaper food prices.
Responses have been wildly different. In Bahrain, the army was pulled back and the police fled. The king is trying appeasement. He has even called a day of mourning for those killed by security forces. Like Egypt, with no clear agenda, the outcome is uncertain.
In contrast, Libya’s Gaddaffi has killed hundreds in the last few days in an attempt to quell the protests. Despite this, today, the Libyan parliament building is burning and police stations are wrecked. Some security forces have defected to the protesters; the country may be poised for civil war.
The Arab nations in the gulf, apart from Bahrain, have so far escaped turmoil, probably because of higher living standards in the oil producing countries, but also the ruthless reign of the Saudi Arabian monarchy. But, like Bahrain, they are not exempt from demands for political reform.
It will take at least the rest of this year to observe how the Arab landscape has changed. It will almost certainly affect the West that still depends on Middle East oil. But the effect on Israel could be disastrous, depending on alignment of Arab nations for or against Israel.
I often wonder why God chose that particular place in the world for Israel to dwell. Any of us could have done a better job of providing a more secure place for the chosen nation. And Christ was clear, Israel has yet to face its greatest distress (Matthew 24:21). Why place Israel in a sea of hostile nations?
God is the Lord of history. He has always been the source of Israel’s defence, but Israel has repeatedly made alliances with other nations for security. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help” has a modern ring to it. But God will be its ultimate liberator:
“like birds hovering overhead.
The LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
He will shield it and deliver it,
He will ‘pass over’ it and rescue it” (Isaiah 31:1 and 5)
These events can also encourage us personally. Because as God is the Lord of history and Israel’s defender, He can surely bring us through “our light and momentary troubles . . . For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).