Don’t break out the bubbly just yet. Though events in the Middle East appear to be moving in a positive direction, appearances can deceive.
It was only January, at his Second Inaugural, that George W. Bush stunningly pronounced America’s policy to “seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
How different the world seems, only a few months on: The winds of revolution fill the air; the Middle East teeters on the brink of a transformation. A number of authoritarian regimes in the region are in upheaval or facing severe pressure to change.
Consider this sequence of head-shaking developments all occurring within the first two months of the year. In Israel, the death of Yasser Arafat prompted the Palestinians to elect a new leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who says he wants to make peace with the Jews. In Iraq, 8 million voters experienced a genuinely democratic moment, for the first time using ballots that had more than one name on them. In Saudi Arabia, the royal family acquiesced and municipal elections saw (male only) Saudi citizens casting the first ballots in their lives. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who has been president since 1981, declared his support for a constitutional amendment to allow opponents to run against him in presidential elections this fall. In Lebanon, a political assassination mobilized tens of thousands of protestors to force the resignation of the pro-Syrian prime minister, creating hope for real Lebanese independence and raising the possibility of the end of Syria’s shady regime.
These developments are sweet wine to supporters of the Bush doctrine; they certainly have the president’s detractors scrambling to put them in perspective.
Nevertheless, a realistic look at these events shows several deeply troubling trends.
In his inaugural address, the American president predicated his argument on the notion that “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” If this were true, then any popular uprising against oppression would be a movement toward peace—and thus in the best interests of America and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, it is not true—not in the world today, that is. By no means can we assume that more freedom makes for more peace.
First, in this world the word freedom can be tricky to define absolutely: One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Multitudes want the freedom to live in a culture governed by religious law (sharia) that others consider barbaric. Thus, rather than presaging greater peace, the revolutionary spirit being unleashed within the Mideast could easily—and in some cases most certainly will—lead the region and the world into a future even darker than the dark present.
This shouldn’t shock us. Certainly Bible prophecy gives us strong clues as to what to expect from this experiment in Mideast governance. But even history alone does as much.
What Past Revolutions Tell Us
To many Americans, the republic and free society that emerged from the Revolutionary War is the benchmark for democratic revolution. But when revolution has transformed other societies, the results have often been decidedly different.
Take, for example, the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reign of Terror and the Napoleonic Wars that ensued; Pol Pot’s revolution in Cambodia, which killed 2 million of its people; the democratic process in Germany that brought Hitler to power in 1933; Chile’s violent coup of 1973 which effectively destroyed the nation’s democracy.
In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington spoke of the “democracy paradox”—that “adoption by non-Western societies of Western democratic institutions encourages and gives access to power to nativist and anti-Western political movements.”
It is within the Middle East that this paradox is perhaps easiest to see. There, revolution has consistently produced authoritarian, anti-Western regimes. When tyrants have been overthrown, this has generally cleared the way for even more aggressive tyranny.
In 1952, an allegedly corrupt King Farouk of Egypt was ousted in a military coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Four years later, as the only candidate in presidential elections, Nasser became the dictatorial president of Egypt. He proceeded to expand state control, increase his personal power and agitate against the Western world. Encouraging aggressive Arab nationalism, he became known as the leader of the Arab world in confronting the “imperialist” West. A new era of defiant Arab politics emerged.
In 1958, King Faisal ii of Iraq was murdered in a military coup and the country declared a republic. Gen. Abd al Kassem assumed leadership and promptly began reversing the monarchy’s pro-Western policies. In 1963, Kassem himself was overthrown in a coup, bringing to power the secular Baath party. This opened the way for Saddam Hussein to become president in 1979, after which he wasted no time in executing his political rivals and choking off what little remained of his country’s freedoms.
In 1969, King Idris of Libya was overthrown and the Libyan Arab Republic set up with Muammar Qadhafi at its head. The Libyan Revolution had overwhelming public backing, with huge numbers filling the streets for days in demonstrations of support. Qadhafi instituted Koranic law and began bankrolling terrorism; he closed U.S. and British bases in Libya, appropriated foreign banks’ funds and confiscated foreign-owned property. Thirty-six years later his dictatorship continues in a country with limited liberty.
In 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was overthrown. Three years later, Col. Mengistu Mariam became head of state as a Marxist dictator. His 14 years of rule were characterized by cruel repression of all opposition: a million died; many were tortured.
In the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the autocratic pro-West monarchy of the shah was replaced by an Islamic theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini. For two decades the shah had faced opposition from those who wanted a constitutional democracy, culminating in a popular uprising in 1978; the shah’s removal was greeted by widespread public euphoria. When Khomeini came to power, he quickly eliminated the more moderate elements of the revolution and established an Islamic Republic—one that to this day remains the bloodiest terrorist-sponsoring nation in the world.
These examples demonstrate the danger in Middle Eastern revolutions—but what about democracy? It has a much shorter history in the region, but one just as worrisome. Consider the 1991-92 elections in Algeria—the Arab world’s only truly free elections to that point. Islamic parties won by a landslide. Feeling threatened, the military annulled the results (with U.S. approval), leading to years of virtual civil war in the country. The military-backed regime has preserved a facade of democracy, all the while locking out the Islamists from the political process.
In 2002 elections in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party, which had recently been formed out of a banned Islamic movement, came to power with a two-thirds majority in parliament. It’s worth noting that it was this Islamic-oriented party that denied the U.S. use of Turkey’s military bases during the Iraq war. Today, anti-Americanism in Turkey is rampant.
Given these past examples, can we really afford to be so euphoric over the chances for peace today? It is utterly naive to expect, as freedom spreads in the bitter desert sands of these Arab and Islamic nations, a sudden blossoming of goodwill toward the West. If anything, the facts point to the opposite—that is, if antipathy for America and Israel can get any worse.
What Will Democracy Bring?
In our November 2002 issue, we wrote, “The problem is that this effort to spread the gospel of democracy is predicated on one erroneous assumption—that all peoples think and act like Americans. They don’t!”
On a few notable occasions, President Bush has acknowledged that the outcome of democracy in the Middle East may be very different than democracy in America. But is he really willing to accept what that outcome may be?
Consider the early returns from the democratic movements already under way.
Among Israel’s Arabs, as democracy blooms so too flowers the phenomenon of terrorists-turned-politicians. When the Palestinian people were given a voice in January’s elections, they threw their support behind Hamas, a group committed to Israel’s destruction and the biggest instigator of terrorism against the Jewish state in the past four years. Abbas, the new Palestinian Authority leader, knows he can’t ignore such a potent political force and has offered to share national leadership with Hamas. Thus, already we can see that if “people power” is to prevail in a new Palestinian state, it will surely produce a religious, anti-Western government strongly influenced by a known terrorist group.
A similar move toward religious-oriented politics is happening in Iraq. The Iraqi people rejected the secular, American-installed interim government of Iyad Allawi in favor of a collection of religious politicians—notably including Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a pro-Iranian Islamist. With the support of religious leaders who mobilized their congregations for election day, Shiite candidates won big. The painful process of creating a new constitution and government will take time; the U.S. put checks in the interim constitution in order to prevent the majority Shiites from taking over (which, of course, requires strictly undemocratic measures to ensure). Many Iraqis consider these to be occupation-era limitations that will have to go so the Iraqis can truly govern themselves. Ultimately, as the Trumpet has long said, Iraq will end up with a Shiite-dominated government that bows to its Shiite-dominated neighbor, Iran—no friend of America, of freedom or of peace.
Municipal elections in Saudi Arabia didn’t classify as a transformative change for the country: They were extremely small-scale; one commentator referred to them as an “empty exercise.” Even so, who do you suppose fared best in them? Islamist candidates. This is bad news for the royal family—after all, Saudi Arabia produced Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 terrorists; al Qaeda’s first goal is to eliminate the royals, which it perceives as being corrupted by Western influence. The ugly truth is, the more democratic Saudi Arabia becomes, the more extremist it will get.
Egypt is an interesting case. For years, the Trumpet’s editor in chief has written of a probable reformation within Egyptian politics along the lines of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, possibly sparked by an assassination. Hosni Mubarak’s secular administration has worked to contain Islamist elements in his country, but his popularity has shrunk over the past decade while support for religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood has grown. Mubarak’s pledge to open up this fall’s election to other candidates is hollow: The government would have to approve the opposing candidates; the first politician to declare his intent to run against Mubarak is now sitting in jail on trumped-up allegations. Still, this does indicate the degree of pressure on the president to free up the process. As in Saudi Arabia, however, if open elections were ever held in Egypt, Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood would surely be frontrunners.
Thus we see, in all these countries, that the movement toward democracy is either cosmetic or it is pushing to replace isolated autocrats with more popular and overtly religious governments.
Lebanon is another case in point.
Cedar Revolution and Its Response
The photogenic anti-Syria demonstrations in Lebanon were impressive—and misleading. Though they looked huge, in reality only a minority of the Lebanese were protesting Syria’s presence—mostly the Druze (who practice a form of Islam; roughly estimated to be 7 percent of Lebanese) and Maronites (Christians; 16 percent). Within days, the real story materialized as these rallies were trumped by much largerpro-Syria demonstrations mounted by Hezbollah.
The “Party of God,” Hezbollah, is bad news. Representing Lebanon’s largest ethnic faction (the Shiites, estimated at 41 percent, more than half of whom are Hezbollah supporters), Hezbollah is so entrenched there that it actually operates an independent government in southern Lebanon. Considered the best-organized and -armed terrorist group in the world, Hezbollah receives most of its estimated $100 million annual budget—intended largely to fulfill its codified goal of obliterating Israel and defeating America—from Iran. It enjoys considerable popular support within Lebanon, not only for its charitable activities, but for the measurable success of its innovative brand of terrorism: In May 2000, a 15-year terror campaign to force Israel out of southern Lebanon ended in victory; in January 2004, a bloody suicide bombing and a political kidnapping convinced Israel to release 23 Lebanese terrorists and more than 400 Palestinian prisoners—in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli and the remains of three others. These are heady victories.
The anti-Syria rallies in March gave Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, an opportunity to show the world just how powerful and how entrenched within Lebanon his organization really is: He gave the word and instantaneously mobilized a mob of close to half a million into the streets in counterprotest.
This in a country of only 3.8 million people. Impressive.
There is no arguing that Hezbollah would be a major force if Lebanon held free elections. Like Hamas, the organization is already moving into politics; it holds 13 seats in the Lebanese parliament and is quickly becoming the country’s most popular party. According to Joseph de Courcy, “influential people within the Iranian regime do not believe that Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon is dependent on a continuing Syrian presence” (Courcy’s Intelligence Review, March 17). Some analysts believe a Syrian withdrawal would in fact strengthen Hezbollah.
The bottom line is, supporting democracy in Lebanon means accepting the probability of Hezbollah’s rise.
Likewise, democracy for the Palestinians will legitimize Hamas. Democracy in Egypt would empower the Muslim Brotherhood. And so on.
“Sadly, Islamists uniquely have what it takes to win elections: the talent to develop a compelling ideology, the energy to found parties, the devotion to win supporters, the money to spend on electoral campaigns, the honesty to appeal to voters, and the will to intimidate rivals” (New York Sun, March 8).
Will President Bush—will the rest of the West—be okay with that? Are they really willing to accept whatever emerges from this experiment in “people power”?
After the Hezbollah demonstration, Mr. Bush mentioned that he may recognize the group as a political party if it forsakes terrorism. Many in the media are suggesting as much: that perhaps the best way to pacify the terrorists is by inviting them into the political process. “Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert on the Islamic world at the American Enterprise Institute, calls this fighting bin Ladenism ‘from the inside out’; by participating in an open political system and competing for support, Islamists could be driven over time to moderation” (Washington Post, March 14).
Such reasoning is dead wrong. To whatever degree it is acted upon, it will kindle a fire in the minds of men—not for peace but for religious nationalism.
What You Can Know
This trend may be slowed or stopped. The Middle East is a volatile place; transformation and regression can occur quickly.
Bible prophecy, however, does provide some absolutes that can guide our expectations of what to watch for.
The Trumpet has written extensively over a period of 12 years—based on the prophecy of Daniel 11:40 of a coming “king of the south” and a coming alliance discussed in Psalm 83—about the dangerous potential in Iraq falling under the influence of Iran. This is happening as prophesied. This alliance appears critical to the Islamic Republic, the core power of the king of the south. It will supply Iran with oil and other natural and human resources crucial to its waxing strong as a political force in the months and years to come. These prophecies are explained in our free King of the South booklet.
The Trumpet has long forecasted a radicalization within Egyptian politics. Prophecy indicates that Egypt too will fall into the ambit of the Iran-led power. Given the make-up of Egypt’s electorate, should it ever be allowed to express itself, it is possible this scenario could come about by popular demand—even through genuinely democratic means.
The Trumpet has also written of the ascension of the Arab population within Israel, to the point that they will conquer half of Jerusalem, having been bankrolled and championed by Iran. This too is a certain outcome of present events.
As for the immediate fate of Syria, Lebanon and other Mideast countries, the prophetic picture is not yet clear. As the Apostle Paul said, “we see through a glass, darkly.” However, reports show that Iran is surreptitiously positioning itself to take over in Lebanon should Syria be forced out—fortifying Hezbollah bases and preparing to supply tanks, rockets and missiles. Iran’s continuing ascendancy within the region is an absolute, and we can certainly expect its influence to grow.
Another absolute is the ultimate failure of American foreign policy. As the evidence proves, the seeds of this fiasco have already been sown.
At the end of days, looking back in hindsight on today’s history, it may prove to be one of the greatest irony of our time that the United States, in striving to rid the world of terrorism by toppling dictators and empowering populations, actually eliminated all the enemies restraining Iran from realizing its imperialistic ambitions (Saddam Hussein is a prime example)—and thus hastened Iran fulfilling its role as one of the primary instigators of World War iii.
As Scripture says, “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men”—He shapes events to suit His purposes and to ensure the fulfillment of His prophecies.
One final certainty is the ultimate failure of democracy.
“People power” could never bring this world the peace it cries out for—the freedom that God’s Word absolutely promises. The inarguable reality is, even if all nations in the world overthrew their leaders and established democracy, humanity still would not be free! A thousand Americas would not bring peace in our world!
The American president’s goal of ending tyranny in our world is impossible, impossible, impossible for human beings to achieve—because this world yet suffocates in the stranglehold of the most malevolent tyranny of all: that of the devil, who “deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
Scripture explicitly describes how Satan rules men’s minds. He intoxicates them with perverse religion; he pollutes their thinking with counterfeit ideas of freedom; he drives them to seek to establish world peace through the ways of war. These satanic concepts are going to collide violently with the naive notions of peace and freedom being floated by Western politicians.
The idea that the United States will end tyranny in the world is about to perish in flames.Tyranny will wax strong. And the United States—immoral and unteachable, in need of correction by the rod of God’s anger (Isaiah 10:5-6)—will get a powerful dose of it!
God alone can give freedom—end tyranny—establish peace. And, as His Word is sure and cannot be broken, it is an absolute certainty that this is exactly what He will do.
Jesus Christ will smash rebellion and establish conditions whereby the true way of peace can be practiced globally. In the final revolution to be seen on this weary planet, all the kingdoms of this world—its confusion of experiments in mismanagement, man ruling man in a numbing sequence of trials and errors—will become the kingdom of our God, and of His Christ.