The Arab Spring, Five Years Later
“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed” (Zephaniah 3:8 ESV).
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The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in late 2010, when the self-immolation of a street vendor in a provincial town of Sidi Bouzid sparked mass anti-government protests. In early 2011, unable to control the crowds, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country after 23 years in power. Ben Ali’s downfall inspired similar uprisings across the Middle East.
Egyptian president Hosni Muburak was ousted in mass protests. Similar uprisings occurred in Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain. Hope was great that these revolts would result in transitioning from years of corrupt dictatorships to democracy and economic opportunity. Without domestic terror groups such as Al-Qaeda to interfere, it appeared for a while that democracy had indeed triumphed. The hope was short-lived. There has been little progress toward democracy, and most of the region has been engulfed in turmoil.
In Libya, where an eight month civil war removed and led to the execution of Muammar Gaddafi, chaos reigns. Yemen, where the 22-year rule of Ali Abdullah Selah ended, has been a humanitarian disaster. Saudi-led bombings aimed at removing Houthi rebels have caused massive loss of life. Protests in Bahrain, home to the US navy’s 5th fleet, were the largest of the Arab Spring demonstrations. Driven by that country’s Islam Shia majority, protesters demanded greater political rights from the Islam Sunni-led monarchy. That monarchy crushed the protests through reinforcements from allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Many opponents of the government, and rights activists, are imprisoned yet today. The site of protests remains sealed off by security forces.
The Islamic State group (ISIS), sprang from the 2003 U.S. invasion in Iraq, surfaced in the summer of 2014, creating one of the most ruthless forces to have ever occupied that region. Its presence in Syria has produced the worst refugee crisis since World War II, strapping the European Union and aid groups. Almost eight million people have been displaced; four million have fled the country and 250,000 have been killed. Yet more than four million Syrians remain in the region without significant hope. Neighboring Arab countries have refused to accept them.
Turkey called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign, and has financed attempts to evict him by extremist military factions. The city of Damascus reels in constant turmoil. The conflict in Syria is leading to a proxy war for the regional powers in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Iran. The Financial Times reported that Qatar poured as much as $3 billion U.S. dollars into anti-government rebellions during the first two years of Syria’s civil war.
Only Tunisia has emerged from the Arab Spring with a new constitution and peaceful transition of power through democratic elections. In 2015, the country became the first Arab state ever to be judged fully “free” by Freedom House, a United States-based monitor of civil liberties. It rose 32 rankings in the Vienna-based Democracy Ranking Association. The country’s civil society groups received the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.
However, in spite of this progress, the transition has not been smooth. “When it comes to freedom and dignity, the situation did not really change,” said Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian Internet activist, blogger and assistant lecturer in linguistics at Tunis University. “We enjoyed a few months of revolutionary euphoria but just after we went back to old practices, torture is still practiced, individual freedoms are not respected.”
The Cry for Rights
Initially, it appeared that the uprisings of the Arab Spring would have the same result as the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 that brought down communism. Governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen were overthrown; governmental reforms brought political freedom in Jordan, Iraq and Bahrain; autocrats in Saudi Arabia and Algeria promised social reforms.
But the hope was short-lived. Egypt returned to autocratic rule; Syria, Libya and Yemen are a political and social mess; the Islamic State remains a disruptive force in both the Eastern and Western bloc of nations. Why? No viable alternative to Islamism and military rule has worked. While Islamists provide social relief and education for the working class, they do nothing to rid the corruption of wealthy autocrats in all the regions, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Suppression of dissidents, bribery and social inequality remain.
Plan Man’s solutions have always failed to bring true hope and prosperity to every individual. All types of governments have been tried, with none bringing about the desired utopia. Only Jehovah can perform this, and He will do so in His own time. The uprisings of the Arab Spring, as well as other revolutions in our day, have demonstrated the limits of man in achieving a sustainable peace and an equitable world. These uprisings have not been without purpose in God’s plan, however. In fact, these uprising are predicted in prophecy and indicate that the intervention of Jehovah in the world’s affairs is progressing on.
In Zephaniah’s prophecy, the gathering of nations is a notable precursor to the time when the Lord brings a true end to tyrannical rule. Zephaniah’s prediction in the theme text is that all nations would be “gathered” prior to his intervention. This is not a physical gathering to one spot on earth — that would be quite impossible. However, our world today is virtually gathered through interconnectedness as never before in history. It is now possible to reach every corner of the earth through wireless and mobile connections. Today there are more than seven billion cellular subscriptions and over three billion Internet connections. While over half the world still has no connections, this is changing rapidly through the use of beaming balloons and micro satellites. What happens on a street in Syria can be flashed in seconds around the world to billions of on-lookers.
Apostle Peter states that the “heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt” (2 Peter 3:7-13). These “heavens” and “elements” are the oppressive systems of the world. Peter says that these systems — religious, social, political, and economic — will be removed to make way for God’s kingdom of righteousness. Once nations are fully gathered, Jehovah will pour out the “fire” of His wrath. This does not, however, imply destruction of the earth. It means that the nation states existing today will be brought to the brink of destruction. Then God will turn to the people and bring them the desired hope of freedom in a world without corruption. Jesus and His church will rule over the restoration of human rights and the healing of nations. “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you’ ” (Isaiah 35:3,4 NAS).
Zephaniah likens this recompense to a fire, and he says that after the fire, God will “turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). The “pure language” here is truth. Once the chastening hand of justice brings the nations to their knees, God will pour out His spirit upon man (Acts 2:17), and Jesus and his Church will teach a “pure language” to the people through the resurrected ancient worthies, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et al. The experience with evil and evil men will not be without purpose. It will allow the people to compare the message of men to that of God’s truths. Mankind will learn to serve God “shoulder to shoulder” (Verse 9, NAS). Men will work together to build a peaceful and productive society in which every individual contributes and shares.
The prophet Isaiah says, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). What a glorious prospect for peace — not just in the Middle East — but throughout the entire world!