It has dominated the headlines for days.
‘Violent Protests Escalate Outside Egypt’s Capital’
‘Egypt on the Edge as Demonstrations Turn Violent’
‘Egypt Protest: Social Networking Sites blocked, Journalists Beaten
‘More than 100 killed in Egypt Protests’
‘Israel Shows Its Anxiety At Protests in Egypt’
Egypt is in a political upheaval not seen since the ‘Bread Riots’ of 1977. Following after the ‘jasmine revolution’ in Tunisia, Egyptians are taking to the streets en masse to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled this nation for nearly 30 years.
Mubarak was propelled into the Egyptian presidency after the assassination of President Anwar al Sadat. Sadat was best remembered for two suprise moves regarding Israel:
1. Surprise One -- War: Sadat launched a surprise attack against Israel in Sinai on 6 October (Yom Kippur) 1973, while Syria simultaneously attacked Israel in Golan. The war lasted 3 weeks. While making initial military gains in Sinai, thanks to a US supply airlift, the Israelis beat Egyptian forces back across the Suez Canal. Nevertheless, the 6th of October was considered a great victory and celebrated as an annual event.
2. Surprise Two -- Peace: Sadat surprised the world again in November 1977, when he decided to launch a ‘peace offensive’ by going directly to the Israelis in Jerusalem and speaking at the Knesset. His historic visit led to the Camp David Accords of 1978, mediated with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and US President Jimmy Carter. On 26 March 1979, Israel and Egypt signed their historic peace treaty, which is still in force until now.
Sadat was gunned down in a spectator’s stand at the October 6th Victory Parade in 1981; Mubarak was by his side at the time of the assassination. He immediately assumed power and has been in-charge ever since.
As street protests continue, it is fit to ask: Why does Egypt matter? What is the meaning of these protests? And, most importantly, what does the future hold?
Without question, Egypt is one of the unique countries of the world. It was seat of an ancient empire 4,500 years ago. It still holds sway today.
The Egyptian empire was highly advanced by any standard and the lasting souvenir of this are the pyramids of Giza. In addition are their amazing embalming methods, thus giving the world ‘the mummies.’ The pyramids, especially the Great Pyramid of Cheops, which contained over a million stones quarried and hauled on the Nile River from 100s of kilometers away in Upper Egypt, with 100,000 slaves labouring for 20 years, have to be one of the most sought after tourist sites in the world. One person quipped: ‘Man fears time ... and time fears the pyramids’
The Bible speaks about the Egyptian empire, mostly in passing. It was the stage of great oppression of the children of Israel in the days of Pharaoh which led to the exodus from Egypt (Book of Exodus). Periodic encounters with Egypt continued to occur from then on. From a New Testament perspective, Egypt became a place of refuge when the Christ child was taken there to hide from the wrath of King Herod the Great (Matthew 2:12-21). Once Herod was dead, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 11:1 ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’ (as found in Matthew 2:15 KJV).
During early church history, Egypt was host to many monasteries and holy men. When Muslim armies swept through North Africa in the 7th Century AD, unlike its neighbours, Egypt retained its strong Christian population. One scholar has commented that Egypt only had a Muslim majority population in the 18th Century. Today, the Egyptian Christian community (mostly Coptic, but other denominations are present) continues, despite increasingly persecution.
Egypt is clearly one of the most important countries in the world. Here’s why:
1. Egypt is a leading country of Africa: Egypt plays a leading role in Africa, as a hub, an entry port, and a strategic player. This includes its membership in the Africa Union.
2. Egypt is a leading Middle East country: Though clearly on African soil, Egypt plays a leading role in the Middle East politics. Its geographic position, large population (80 million), and historic leadership role means that it holds sway -- even a veto -- in Middle East affairs.
3. Egypt is a leading Muslim country: Egypt is important to the Muslim world, not the least of which is hosting the famous al Azhar (Islamic) University.
What is the meaning of these protests? Localised riots happen from time-to-time in Egypt, but these current riots are unprecedented in scope and ferocity ... as well as defiance of the government. The Egyptian people have many complaints: the lack of free, fair elections, high food prices and unemployment, the State of Emergency laws which have been around for most of Mubarak’s 30 year administration, and alleged police brutality that accompany it. These emergency laws bring in censorship, the suspension of constitutional rights, and arrest and indefinite imprisonment without due process. The parliamentary elections of December 2010, where Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party received an almost unanimous majority, may have been the last straw. Emboldened by the success of Tunisia’s ‘Jasmine Revolution,’ Egyptians in protest hit the streets in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, and Beni Suef. Over 100 deaths have been recorded thus far.
While the protestors are united in their demand that Mubarak step down (one quipped: ‘Mubarak, your plane is ready.’), it is not clear who or what they want to put in his place. Many are calling for democracy. Nobel Laureate Muhammad el Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is viewed as a possible interim replacement. But the fear in the West, particularly the United States and Israel, is that the Muslim Brotherhood or some other Islamist front might try to install an anti-democratic, anti-western regime in Cairo.
What does the future hold? A democratic, prosperous Egypt is in everyone’s interest, locally and abroad. The welfare of Egypt will inevitably affect Africa, the Arab and Islamic world, and, of course, western interests. Murbarak’s Egypt has been a pillar in the ‘War Against Terror’ and it hoped that the new Egypt will be the same.
Israel has particular reason to be anxious. Egypt was once Israel’s most formidable enemy and an indispensable member of any Arab miltary front. With the 1979 peace treaty, Egypt’s removable from the war party had effectively suspended any serious Arab attempt to invade the Jewish state. Should religious or anti-western, anti-Israel elements take over in Cairo and tear up the peace treaty, Israel could face its greatest geo-political challenge in decades. Couple this with the long Egyptian-Israeli border, continuous people smuggling including Sudanese refugees, as well as smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip, and Israel would face a dire challenge.
Regime change in Egypt seems inevitable. Once a ruling elite loses the support of key players, like the police and military, then their days are numbered. Egypt is a vibrant and complex nation, with several source of power. It is still conceivable that secular and/or moderate forces could win the day. It clearly is a matter of prayer for the people of faith.
But never forget there is a remarkable prophecy -- yet to be fulfilled -- found in Isaiah Chapter 19:23-25. The great ancient Afro-Eurasian highway, which went from Egypt, through Israel, into Mesopotamia, has been closed since Israel’s birth in 1948. According to this prophecy, it will reopen again ... and will be used than ever. In it, God calls ‘Egypt my people.’ May His word come speedily in our day.
Egypt’s best days are yet ahead.