Egypt and God’s Revolution for the Middle East

February 2011

Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has the world watched with as much anticipation as the changing of political power in the Middle East of 2011. Yet, our hopes for real freedom for the nations of this region are cooled by the memory of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which “liberated” their people from one repressive rule to be enslaved by another—Islamic fundamentalism. Since the time of the pharaohs, even in the formation of the modern Middle East, this region has been known for its autocratic rulers and oppressive regimes. Here, in the cradle of civilization, democracy is rarely witnessed, and when practiced, it is often used in a charade for rigged elections, or as the means to an end. In short, revolution in the Middle East does not guarantee true reformation.

In January we all began watching Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, where popular unrest filled the streets and brought on the ouster and abdication of their “President” of twenty four years. Now, Egypt stands teetering on the chaotic edge of the political unknown as street protests have chased their President Hosni Mubarak into a corner. If Mubarak’s despotism falls, who and what ideology will fill the power vacuum? More significantly, Egypt is the most populated country in the Middle East, with nearly 80 million people, and considered a leader on the regional stage. Egypt’s choices will undoubtedly create a new balance of power for political and religious agendas in tomorrow’s Middle East.

Understandably, Israel warily watches Egypt, its mammoth neighbor. When American President Jimmy Carter mediated the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978-79, Israel and Egypt’s unexpected peace agreement began a powerful ripple effect throughout the region. While the peace between Egypt and Israel has been dubbed a “cold peace”, Egypt’s example as the Arab forerunner for peaceful coexistence with their enemy should not be ignored. During the last thirty years of Egypt’s peace with Israel, many Arab countries have come somewhere between a grudging acceptance to a silent understanding of the Israeli state.

An illustration of Israel’s fears of future Egyptian relations was displayed by the gas line explosion on Feb. 5th in the Sinai. As cooperating neighbors since 1979, Egypt provides Israel with 40% of their natural gas supplies via pipelines that flow between the two countries. A suspected saboteur’s blast on sent a fireball into the sky at the Egyptian terminal, cutting off the fuel flow to Israel. The example of the sabotaged pipeline does not bode well for a future relationship with an Egyptian public already known as unsympathetic to their Jewish neighbors and the potential rise of the anti-Israel Islamic Brotherhood.

Scripture also recognizes Egypt’s complex and conflicted nature in history. While Egypt is known as an exemplar of ancient civilization with its hieroglyphs, temples, and tombs, biblically it is synonymous with slavery. The Bible relentlessly reminds the reader that Egypt enslaved Israel and that God freed His people with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Yet, despite the Egyptian nation being portrayed as the villain in every Passover celebration, it is also the Bible that depicts a redemptive future for the Egyptian people.

In the Bible, Egypt’s inhabitants are portrayed as full of idolatry and infighting, with a Pharaonic pedigree of power, prosperity, and pride. Egypt’s past, present, and future fuse into meaninglessness, until “the day” that the Egyptians recognize the LORD. In language that is reminiscent of Israel’s own special relationship with God, Isaiah 19 says that the Egyptians will cry out to the LORD and He will send them a savior. The LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and they will acknowledge the Him. He will strike Egypt with a plague; they will turn to the LORD, and He will respond to their pleas and heal them (Isa 19:20-22).

Isaiah foresees a future Middle East with a highway running from Egypt through Israel to Assyria. All peoples from these countries will flow back and forth on that interstate, and Israel will be the bridge that unites the region because the LORD will be the center of Israel. Ironically, Isaiah’s prophecy bestows upon Egypt and Assyria, two of Israel’s longtime nemeses, titles of overt favor—“Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork.” This accentuates a theme that Isaiah consistently reiterates throughout his book—Israel is a light to the nations (Isa 49:6). Israel and its light—the LORD—is the key piece to complete this puzzle of peace.

How this will all play out in our generation or in “that day” would be mere speculation, yet we can stand confidently on God’s promises. Coincidentally, Isaiah’s highway of peace starts in Egypt, just as the 1978-9 Peace Accord began with Egypt. May our prayers for Israel and this region be based on biblical hope for real revolution as Egypt chooses today who to serve.