What is Happening in the Arab World

In the last 6 weeks the Middle East has become the center of news due to the rash of rebellions/revolutions. Worried monarchs and dictators from Saudi Arabia to Sudan are making concessions hoping things will not turn ugly for them as well. We are told that “hardliners” and “fundamentalists” will come into power and change the balance of power toward war with Israel and state sponsored terrorism. But the reality is not so simple nor so straightforward.

These movements are largely “democratic” movements or at least spontaneous movements of masses of people wanting change. The fact that the US has consistently supported non-democratic regimes as a matter of national security and foreign policy over the last several decades means that these sorts of regimes have in at least some cases been US allies, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. But then the same sort of problem is facing Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, and Sudan who are not US allies. So what do we make of it? Are things going to get better or worse and for whom?

The following article was published by BBC:

Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook

By Ruaridh Arrow Director of Gene Sharp – How to Start a Revolution

In an old townhouse in East Boston an elderly stooped man is tending rare orchids in his shabby office. His Labrador Sally lies on the floor between stacks of academic papers watching him as he shuffles past.

This is Dr Gene Sharp the man now credited with the strategy behind the toppling of the Egyptian government.

Gene Sharp is the world’s foremost expert on non-violent revolution. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages, his books slipped across borders and hidden from secret policemen all over the world.

As Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine fell to the colour revolutions which swept across Eastern Europe, each of the democratic movements paid tribute to Sharp’s contribution, yet he remained largely unknown to the public.

Despite these successes and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2009 he has faced almost constant financial hardship and wild accusations of being a CIA front organisation. The Albert Einstein Institution based on the ground floor of his home is kept running by sheer force of personality and his fiercely loyal Executive Director, Jamila Raqib.

In 2009 I began filming a documentary following the impact of Sharp’s work from his tranquil rooftop orchid house, across four continents and eventually to Tahrir square where I slept alongside protesters who read his work by torchlight in the shadow of tanks.

Gene Sharp is no Che Guevara but he may have had more influence than any other political theorist of his generation.

His central message is that the power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern – and that if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble.

For decades now, people living under authoritarian regimes have made a pilgrimage to Gene Sharp for advice. His writing has helped millions of people around the world achieve their freedom without violence. “As soon as you choose to fight with violence you’re choosing to fight against your opponents best weapons and you have to be smarter than that,” he insists.

“People might be a little surprised when they come here, I don’t tell them what to do. They’ve got to learn how this non-violent struggle works so they can do it for themselves.”

A portion of the article is left out here-

The article continues:

Photocopies in Arabic

By the time I arrived in Tahrir square on 2 February many of those trained in Sharp’s work were in detention. Others were under close observation by the intelligence services and journalists who visited them were detained for hours by the secret police. My own camera equipment was seized as soon as I landed.

When I finally reached one of the organisers he refused to talk about Sharp on camera. He feared that wider knowledge of a US influence would destabilise the movement but confirmed that the work had been widely distributed in Arabic.

“One of the main points which we used was Sharp’s idea of identifying a regime’s pillars of support,” he said. “If we could build a relationship with the army, Mubarak’s biggest pillar of support, to get them on our side, then we knew he would quickly be finished.”

That night as I settled down to sleep in a corner of Tahrir square some of the protesters came to show me text messages they said were from the army telling them that they wouldn’t shoot. “We know them and we know they are on our side now,” they said.

One of the protesters, Mahmoud, had been given photocopies of a handout containing the list of 198 methods but he was unaware of their origins. He proudly described how many of them had been used in Egypt but he had never heard of Gene Sharp.

When I pointed out that these non-violent weapons were the writings of an American academic he protested strongly. “This is an Egyptian revolution”, he said. “We are not being told what to do by the Americans.”

And of course that is exactly what Sharp would want.

Ruaridh Arrow’s film, Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution, will be released in spring 2011

The entire article may be read at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12522848

Gene Sharp will no-doubt become a household name soon but for now his ideas are changing the world we live in. So do we favor “democracy” or support dictators and monarchs? And what will be the result for all of us? In the case of such long-standing enemies of the US like Ghadafy, the answer is easy, of course we support the revolt. But what do we think about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? He has acted in many ways as a friend to the US even recently ensuring that Saudi oil will replace lost Libyan oil supplies and thus help to keep fuel prices from rising dramatically due to the current crisis.  His promise of reforms may be enough to hold off revolt in this key nation but we will have to wait and see.  Unfortunately there are no simple answers and in the end politicians and diplomats must wrestle with these issues. But how does all this affect Christian interests?

How does all this affect Christian interests?

Most discussion from Christian commentators on these issues is focused on the affect these events may have on Israel. Egypt having been a voice of moderation toward Israel under Mubarak is a big blow to Israel’s situation and the change in its government may mean a more critical, even adversarial relationship. Certainly Israel is an important issue for Christians but is it the only issue?

If we look historically at how these sorts of events have played out in the Muslim world it seems that popular uprisings such as this have often led to radical Islam taking advantage of the situation to its own benefit. There does not seem to be evidence that the source of these uprisings is connected to radical Islam but rather that a genuine urge toward more popular influence in national affairs is desired by the people and they are unsatisfied with monarchs and dictators. In the past, in such situations of confusion and unrest it seems that radical Islam has been able to capitalize to increase its role and influence. This is at least partly because in such times of turmoil, Islam is a voice of tradition and security among Muslims. Further, it is not difficult to radicalize a population that is already in the streets and Fundamentalist Islam is its most radical brand and thus has its appeal under such circumstances.

What about Christianity? How do we respond? Can we pray for truly democratic regimes in the Middle East and Northern Africa? Can we pray for a new openness in Muslim societies? It seems that social media such as FaceBook are having a definite affect on Middle Eastern Society encouraging the spread of new ideas such as those of Gene Sharp, how could Christians use such opportunities to spread the gospel? Is there an opening here for the entrance of new ideas about Jesus into the Middle East?

And if there is an opportunity, do we simply put up our giant billboard reading: “Jesus Saves.” Or do we approach this opportunity with greater cultural sensitivity. The process of most Muslims coming to Christ is that the beginning is a new appreciation for Jesus (Issa) as found in the Quran. I do not know that we should call this “salvation,” but it is a beginning point and without the first step there cannot be a second. So evangelistic approaches that lead Muslims to see and respect Jesus in a greater way based upon Quranic verses and similar presentations have been the most effective way to open a meaningful conversation.  Unfortunately some group’s stop at that point and do not tackle the difficult issues of the Christian doctrines related to Jesus as the Son of God, the Quran and the role of Muhammad.  But any true evangelism of Muslims must continue in a teaching/discipleship process that brings Muslims who have come to have a higher respect for Jesus to being true followers of Christ that understand the nature of Jesus as the Son of God, that Christians do not consider the Quran to be scripture nor do Christians consider Muhammad to be a prophet. Such discipleship materials must be sensitive to bring interested Muslims step by step into greater and greater truth. There must of course be a respectful attitude conveyed toward both Muhammad and the Quran throughout this process.

We are in the process of preparing a 50-lesson teaching to do exactly what I am describing above. When completed later this year we expect that this teaching can be used by any ministry working with Muslims and adapted to local conditions and circumstances to move Muslims who have become interested in learning about Christ into a true relationship to Jesus as Lord of their lives. This program is being written by a team of former Muslim teachers who have now come to faith in Christ. Your support of Fire Over Africa in prayers and finances helps us to further this important project.

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