Shockwaves have been reverberated across the Arab world for the last few months, sparked off by the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia.
The fuse for this successful uprising was lit when a Tunisian policewoman slapped a fruit seller. In a town with an astronomical unemployment rate, the fruit seller was selling fruit to support his six siblings. The slap was just one act of humiliation too many for Mohamed Bouazizi, aged 26. He decided to march to the Governor's office to lodge his complaint. He threatened to set himself on fire if he was not given an interview. When he was turned away, he carried out his threat and set himself alight on December 17, 2010.
With Bouazizi's death 18 days later, Tunisia had a martyr and like wildfire, millions of Tunisian youth rallied in protest. Within just a few weeks, President Ben Ali was forced to step down and he fled the country. Seemingly small events can have a very important impact on our personal lives, in the church, in our country and in the world.
In February, we were hypnotised by massive gatherings in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. The crowds seemed to grow constantly, despite government forces who attempted to quell the uprisings calling for the resignation of then president Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was defiant in the face of the gathering storm. As a strong leader and commonly seen as a bridge between the Arab world and Israel, very few expected him to yield. But nothing, not even bloodshed, could dampen the zeal of the masses in Tahrir Square. Eventually, even the West turned against Mubarak and urged him to step down. The strong man buckled and he and his family moved out of Egypt. Another Arab nation had experienced a dramatic revolution.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Libya became the next Arab nation to experience the trauma of protest and revolution. After all, president Muammar Gaddafi had ruled his country with an iron fist for some 42 years. Fortunes have fluctuated between the rebels and Gaddafi's military forces over the past few weeks. At the time of writing (March 2011), it is still not entirely clear as to whether Gaddafi or the rebel forces would triumph.
The fires of revolution have also spread to many other Arab countries, including Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. The conflict in Yemen has been especially severe and bloody and many of the revolutionaries have lost their lives. Whether the ruling regime will crack is an open question.
The power of youth: It is said that 60 per cent of the population of the Arab states is under 30 years of age. It was a similar awakening of the youth that catapulted Barack Obama into his successful candidacy for the White House.
Economic frustration: There is a low level of economic opportunity for a great proportion of the population in many Arab countries. This, despite opulent wealth and accompanying corruption on the part of the ruling class.
Voice in the government: One of the factors which has contributed to these massive uprisings has been the desire for a democratic voice in the ruling of the country. The uprising has drawn together people from all walks of life. Coptic Christians in Egypt combined their voices of protest with those of their Muslim neighbours.
Voice of technology: What gave wings to the current movement in the Arab world has been the power of the internet, social networking sites, satelite television and mobile phones.
The face of Islam: There are commentators who speak of the current uprising in the Arab world as the "Islamic Awakening." It is true that in a country such as Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is a party that might well become influential in the upcoming referendum. Others see the revolutions as fueled by wider issues such as a growing desire for genuine democracy, a need for better employment and financial stability. There is also the desire to get rid of oppressive rulers who make life unbearable.
Whatever the real issues, Islam will continue to have an important role in the Arab world. Strangely, Christian churches in Iraq had enjoyed a measure of liberty when under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Today, there has been a change in attitude toward the Christian church. In the ensuing years, life has become more severe for Christians there and it is estimated that over half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country.
What is the future of the Christian church in the whole of the Arab world? We do not know what form the government will take in each country after the revolutions. We can only pray that the new leaders will grant liberty to secularists, Muslims and Christians.
The flames of revolution may yet engulf other countries, with more presidents and kings forced to step down. The fact that we are living in uncertain times is clear to everyone.
(photo source: gabiglass - stock.xchng)