This article is from Issue 52: July/Aug 2011

A Christian Response to the Arab Spring

How should believers think about the recent conflicts engulfing Arab nations?

In December 2010, Tunisian protestors filled the streets, sparking a revolution that resulted in the overthrow of their long-standing dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. What happened in Tunisia set off a chain reaction—now referred to as the “Arab Spring”—around the Middle East, one that caught pundits and policy makers off-guard. Soon after, Egyptian youth followed the Tunisians’ lead, demanding that their president, Hosni Mubarak—who had ruled for 30 years—step down from power. The citizens of the island nation of Bahrain attempted a non-violent revolution, but the government
squelched it by using force.

Libya was next. The president, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, retaliated against protesters with mercenaries. And, as of press time, protesters in Yemen and Syria are both still facing off against their leaders.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the successful protests took place in Egypt. And it was all sectors of Egyptian society that participated. Amid the chaos in the capital of Cairo, brave Egyptian Christians formed a human shield around their Muslim countrymen as they prayed during the protests. In a beautiful dis- play of shared humanity, Muslims returned the favor in front of churches across Egypt.

Describing what he witnessed in Egypt during and after the revolution, Paul-Gordon Chandler writes in the Episcopal News Service: “Time and time again, thousands of young Egyptian Muslims and Christians have taken to the streets together, first to protest the repressive system, and then to celebrate their victory. The scenes are moving, as Egyptians wave flags and carry banners depicting the cross and crescent embracing, with slogans such as: ‘The crescent and the cross are one. We are all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian.’ ”

Christians and Muslims have voted with their lives for a better Egypt that will provide what Americans consider basic values. The question is: How should international Christians respond?

A lot of evangelicals have reacted with fear or skepticism. During the Tahrir Square stand-off in Egypt, Christian blogs and air- waves were buzzing with speculation that the proposed revolution would give rise to an Islamic state, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, that would immediately start killing off Egypt’s Christians (roughly 10 percent of the population) upon seizing power.