What is happening in the Arab world? During January, the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia since 1987, was brought down by popular protests. In Egypt, the twenty-nine year rule of Hosni Mubarak appears to be only days, perhaps hours, away from ending. And just this morning (February 1, 2011) Jordanian King Abdullah II dismissed his government and called upon former Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit to form a new government. The king’s action was in response to several popular protests across Jordan.
No doubt the televangelists and prophesy preachers are scrambling to once again reinterpret the biblical book of Revelation in light of the latest news from the Middle East. The curious but blind sheep that follow such “pop prophets” will have their wool sheared to pad the prophets’ bank accounts.
I, too, have been giving some thought to the events unfolding in the Arab world. Unfortunately, I have not heard any voices from on high, nor had any visions from God. I have no doubt that God is sovereign over all of history, but if he has chosen to directly orchestrate what is happening in the Middle East, he has not chosen to let me in on his plan. Neither do I believe that the course of future events are to be found in a cursory reading of the book of Revelation, or the bestselling books by such writers as Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, Pat Robertson or Hal Lindsey.
However, that being said to clear the air, I do have a few observations to make. History does provide some lessons which, if remembered, might provide some clues as to what may happen in Egypt. I hesitate to refer to them as “historical laws,” but they do seem to occur with some consistency.
The first is the simple truth that no government, however powerful, cannot exist without at least the passive support of a majority of the people. The people need not support the government, but they need only put up with it. Whenever a majority says enough is enough, the government, however authoritarian, will fall. We have seen this happen many times.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is an example. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi appeared securely in power until Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called on the Iranian people to demand his exit. With the masses out in the streets, the Shah and his family caught a plane to Egypt.
Of course the most impressive example of the people’s power was the Revolution of 1989-1990 that brought down what President Ronald Reagan called “the Evil Empire.” I am thinking in particular of the attempted coup against Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in August, 1991. Hardliners attempted to oust Gorbachev in order to halt his reforms known as glasnost and perestroika. Although Gorbachev hoped to save the communist system by making it work, the hardliners correctly sensed that such reforms were digging a grave for the whole Soviet empire.
When it became known that a coup against Gorbachev was under way, Russian President Boris Yeltsin went on the air to urge the people to go out into the streets to show their opposition. They did, and the coup failed.
A second historical truth was stated best by another Russian, Vladimir Lenin. He said that there comes a time in every revolution when the soldiers are ordered to fire on the people. If they do, he said, the revolution fails. If don’t, then the revolution succeeds.
John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor in Cairo, said earlier today (February 1, 2011): “In every revolution, popular or otherwise, there comes a critical moment—a tipping point—at which the future is decided.” That moment came for Mubarak when the army announced that it would not use force against the demonstrators. Although he has vowed to remain in Egypt, I think it safe to say, that his ticket is ready, and he need only pick up his boarding pass. He will soon be on his way to a comfortable exile. Mubarak should not think of retirement in the USA, for as the Shah discovered, the loyalty of a former ally has its limits.
How all this will play out in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is not clear. However, one thing is clear. The USA is no longer the great power it was during the Cold War. It is obvious that America has been taken by surprise. We do not control events; we can only react, while hoping for the best.
Until the next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.