The death of Libya’s longtime ruler—the ouster of Egypt’s autocratic president—Tunisia’s first free elections after a popular uprising. The “Arab Spring” is ushering in a new form of government for the region.
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“I shot him twice…” a war-frenzied, self-proclaimed revolutionary proudly declared. Not satisfied with the prospect of keeping the dictator alive for trial, the young fighter decided to take matters into his own hands.
Though exact details of how it happened are unclear, Moammar Gadhafi’s death marked an end to the longest dictatorship in post colonial African history. Immediately, Libyans turned to a new blank page in their story, one it seems they can write themselves.
World leaders responded with optimism, sighs of relief, and high hopes for a new democratic ally in the region.
British Prime Minister David Cameron stated: “We should also remember the many, many Libyans who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime…People in Libya today have an even greater chance, after this news, of building themselves a strong and democratic future” (BBC).
The news outlet also quoted French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe: “It’s an historic event. It’s the beginning of a new period, of a democracy, freedom and the rebuilding of the country.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated: “We hope that there will be peace in Libya, and that all those who are governing the state, different representatives of Libyan tribes, will reach a final agreement on the configuration of power and Libya will be a modern democratic state” (ibid.).
Soon after the dictator was buried, however, clouds of uncertainty began to gather.
“Euphoria over Gaddafi’s death on October 20 was already giving way to new anxieties and frictions, and, behind the facade of celebration and fireworks, many Libyans are worried about the future while others are optimistic differences can be resolved,” Reuters reported.
Libya is also quickly being reminded of age-old internal struggles.
“Tribal rivalries, an east-west divide, a rebel leadership lacking coherence, a shattered economy and the absence of a ‘civil society’—these are just a few of the challenges that a post-Gadhafi Libya will face,” a CNN article stated.
The rebel forces that fought against Gadhafi desire a new, brighter Libya. The average Libyan civilian likely desires a peaceful existence. And Western nations desire to fashion Libya’s democracy in their own way.
Libya’s chapter in the Arab Spring developed much differently from that of their neighbor Egypt, where longtime leader Hosni Mubarak stepped aside after continued demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Libyan rebels, aided by NATO forces, had to fight for months before toppling the Gadhafi regime.
Despite these differences, post-revolution events seem to be unfolding similarly for both nations.
In Egypt, the majority party Muslim Brotherhood says it does not intend to apply Koran-inspired Shariah law, BBC reported, but it also added that some are questioning its true motives.
“Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood…claim that they do really harbour the goal of an Islamic state but are cloaking this ambition in ambiguity as a matter of political expediency.”
Only days after Gadhafi’s death, rumors of a similar pattern emerged from Libya.
The Telegraph stated that the nation’s current leader “already declared that Libyan laws in future would have Sharia, the Islamic code, as its ‘basic source.’” The paper also added that the chairman immediately lifted a Gadhafi-era law that banned polygamy.
Islamic law also seems to be gaining ground in Tunisia, where the regional rebellion saw its inception. There, the Islamic political party Ennahda already dominated a historic post-revolution election.
“Secularists, women’s groups and other critics accuse Ennahda of being moderate in public and radical in the mosques,” Agence France-Presse stated. “Ennahda founder Rachid Ghannouchi in the 1970s called for the strict application of sharia law in Tunisia but he has toned down his demands in recent years.”
“There’s good reason to suspect that Tunisia’s electoral outcome will be repeated in an Egyptian poll: The main political contest there may turn out to be the one between the Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical Salafist challengers than between the Brotherhood and the secular liberals,” Time magazine stated.
The article concludes: “What…Tunisia elections and Libya ‘liberation’ celebrations make clear, however, is that anyone seeking to deny or evade the fact of the centrality of political Islam is likely to be left on the sidelines by the democratization of the Arab world.”
An April 2011 Pew research poll showed Egyptian views on the role of Islamic law: “About six-in-ten (62%) think laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran. However, only 31% of Egyptian Muslims say they sympathize with Islamic fundamentalists, while nearly the same number (30%) say they sympathize with those who disagree with the fundamentalists, and 26% have mixed views on this question.”
No one is more closely watching the formation of these fledgling governments than Israel—the lone standard bearer for Western-style democracy in the region. The same Pew study also probed feelings on Egypt-Israel relations: “Those who disagree with fundamentalists are almost evenly divided on whether the treaty with Israel should be annulled, while others favor ending the pact by a goodly margin.”
According to New York Daily News, “The Israeli-Egyptian peace is in jeopardy and so is the cordial rapport Israel once had with Turkey. Along with Iran and Ethiopia, Turkey comprised the ‘strategy of the periphery’ that Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, established with non-Arab nations. But Iran now is Israel’s mortal enemy, Ethiopia hardly matters and Turkey is bristling with hostility…”
The article continued, “Israel’s dilemma is that the Middle East, for all the talk of revolution, is slipping backward. Turkey is possibly evolving into an Islamic republic and even if this is not the case, it is reasserting its historical role as a regional power. Iran toppled its Westernizing shah with his pro-Israel proclivities and, in 1979, became a theocracy. And Egypt, long the leader of the Arab world, may find it cannot lead its own people. The peace with Israel has little support among the populace. It’s not just that Israel is not loved, it’s that Jews are hated.”
Many long for unity in the Arab world, but they generally want it under the banner of democracy. While this may soon be achieved, Western politicians—and Israel—may have to accept it as a byproduct of a collection of governments heavily influenced by Islam.
Some warn that a rise of Islam in government could rather provide grounds for a more focused, organized coalition that could further promote the spread of Islam. Many fear this could be the rebirth of a multi-national “Islamic caliphate,” and a safe haven for terrorists.
“It is true that the dream of a caliphate is held dear by several categories of Muslim,” The Economist stated. “They include followers of al-Qaeda, bent on war with the ‘Jews and crusaders’ of the Western world; many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe in active participation in politics but still see Islamic governance as a long-term goal; and Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) which, in places that range from British universities to Uzbek slums, propagates the idea that secular elections are sacrilege.
“But is the caliphate a religious doctrine—something central to Islam—or just a detail, however important, of history? In all readings of Islam, especially the ones that now dominate in the Middle East, there is huge reverence for the first four caliphs who succeeded Muhammad as leaders of the emerging Muslim community. All subsequent Muslim empires had caliphs and the abolition of the last caliphate—by Turkey’s new rulers in 1924—sent shock waves through the world of Islam.”
What kind of effect would an oil-rich, Islamic power bloc trigger in today’s world, and particularly in neighboring Israel? While pondering the possibilities, take into account the words of Islamic Jihad’s Ramadan Shallah quoted in Haaretz: “Israel will not bring peace to the region, it will only bring war and destruction and therefore, the slogan of all should be that Israel must be wiped out of existence.”
A more recent example: “A member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family increased to $1 million a reward offered by a Saudi cleric to anyone who captures an Israeli soldier to swap him for Palestinian prisoners,” The Associated Press reported. “The Saudi offers follow in the wake of the release of Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was held by Hamas in Gaza for more than five years. Israel has agreed to free over 1,000 prisoners in exchange…In Israel, extremists have offered two rewards of $100,000 to anyone who kills a Palestinian released in the Schalit deal if the Palestinian killed Israelis.”
Even in the 21st century, ancient tensions are in play in these developing governments—that of Islam versus Christianity. Anyone can see that Shariah-based law comes from the Muslim faith. What most tend to ignore is that democratic societies are largely rooted in traditional Christianity.
History proves these two religions, and the cultures based upon them, do not get along.
In a forum sponsored by Pew Research, Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, said the source of the Islam and Christendom conflict comes not from the two religions’ differences but from their similarities.
“These two religions, and as far as I am aware, no others in the world, believe that their truths are not only universal but also exclusive,” Mr. Lewis said. “They believe that they are the fortunate recipients of God’s final message to humanity, which it is their duty not to keep selfishly to themselves…but to bring to the rest of mankind, removing whatever barriers there may be in the way.”
Because both believe they hold the key to human salvation, Mr. Lewis said tensions between Christendom and Islam occur because each have “aspired to the same role”—bringing God’s message to the whole world—“each seeing it as a divinely ordained mission.”
Mr. Lewis continued, “In order to understand what is going on, one has to see the ongoing struggle within this larger perspective of the millennial struggle between the rival religions…”
The scars from the competing religions can be found most easily on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which switched hands repeatedly during the Crusades. Muslims took the mount in AD 700 and built a wooden Al-Aqsa Mosque on the foundation of a Roman temple. Christian crusaders then violently seized the Holy Land and, in the early 12th century, reconstructed an earthquake-damaged Al-Aqsa Mosque as the Temple Solomonis and the Dome of the Rock, renamed the Temple Domini. Crusaders revamped both buildings, adding altars, icons, new mosaics, and Christian inscriptions—crosses replaced all crescent moons. Muslims recaptured the area in 1187, reclaiming the mount’s two mosques. Islamic followers purged the Catholic icons and renovated the marble mosaics and inscriptions. These two mosques remain standing today.
During that time, Christian Europe clashed with the Islamic caliphate, constantly shifting control of the land. The caliphate, an Islamic empire established after Muhammad’s death and ruled by a caliph, clashed with the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and then Western European empires. It was not until 1924, when the creation of the Turkish Empire deposed the last caliph, that this religious rivalry faded from view.
Since that time, entire generations of children in the West have grown up not understanding the constant battles that once took place between the two belief systems. Also, modern conventional wisdom believes mankind has grown past these differences. And it is a pleasant ideal: widespread tolerance and peace.
Yet the rivalry between traditional Christianity and Islam goes back even further. Both belief systems can be traced to the same man—Abraham of the Old Testament. This biblical patriarch had two sons, Isaac (by his wife, Sarah) and Ishmael (by her handmaid Hagar). The descendants of Isaac gave rise to both Judaism and Christianity, and Ishmael to Islam.
There has been a sibling rivalry ever since.
The Bible, however, does more than reveal the source of Middle East tensions. While the Book is filled with historical accounts, about one-third of it is prophecy, which can be likened to history written in advance. For instance, Ishmael was foretold to become “a great nation” (Gen. 17:20) and that “his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
Nations descended from Ishmael tend to stick together, especially when concerning the creation of confederations such as caliphates. This is just one example of history proving the Bible’s validity.
In addition, the Bible is specific on how the vast majority of “Arab Spring” governments will turn out. Its pages describe the formation of a renewed version of the Islamic caliphate. Psalm 83 describes a confederation of nations (vs. 5) that specifically includes the “Ishmaelites” (vs. 6-8).
While many immediately dismiss the notion of Bible prophecy, God intends this history written in advance to serve as proof. Prophecies that have already been fulfilled validate other foretold events.
Notice: “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9-10).
In other words, God says certain events will happen, then He works to bring them to pass. This is summarized in the next verse: “I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it” (Isa. 46:11).
The book of Daniel includes the longest unbroken prophecy in the Bible. In it lies the future of the Middle East—including what will occur in the likes of Libya and Egypt.