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North Africa and the Middle East: Calls for Changeby Jeanne Torrence Finley

Protests in the Arab World

ConnectingFaith and Lifevolume 16, number 47 march 20, 2011

Session at a GlanceIn recent weeks, demonstrations in North Africa and the Middle East have raised questions about the human longing for freedom and dignity and about governmental responsibility. How does Gods vision for the world help us connect with the people in these nations and offer hope as we grapple with the emerging issues?FAITHLINK is available by subscription via e mail ( or by downloading it from the Web ( Print in color or black and white. Find us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Copyright 2011 by Cokesbury. Permission given to copy this page for use in class.

The ongoing saga of upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East raises questions for us about how God works in the world and how our actions can matter. We have seen transformation fueled by people who are tired of living in poverty, fed up with corrupt authoritarian regimes, and insistent on their human dignity. The prospects of change in North Africa and the Middle East are greater than they have been in recent memory. Washington Post columnist Eboo Patel writes that accounts of the Egyptian pro-democracy demonstration in 2005 pale in comparison to the events of January 2011. He says, however, that there would have been no January 25, 2011 if there was not an April 27, 2005 [when a few hundred Egyptian protesters were outnumbered by police]. There would not have been a few hundred thousand friends and supporters of the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page (widely credited with gathering and channeling the discontent in Egypt) had there not been earlier democracy blogs and Facebook pages that were trafficked by a few hundred.

At this writing, unrest spans the Arab world (countries in which Arabic is the primary language) from the western Atlantic coast of North Africa to the Persian Gulf. The following review of events includes some, but not all, of the countries where there have been demonstrationsmostly by young people and fueled by social networkingcalling for governmental reform. In January, mass demonstrations in Tunisia forced President Zineel-Abdine Ben Ali to resign; and on February 27, Tunisian prime minister Mohammed Ghannoushi announced his resignation as head of the transitional government. The Tunisian protests inspired revolts in Egypt and Libya and protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and Iraq. In Egypt, where protestors ousted President Hosni Mubarak on February 11 after weeks of mostly peaceful demonstrations against his 30-year autocratic regime, the military will run the country for six months or until elections can be held. Much of the unrest is about corruption (including personal enrichment among the political elite), unemployment (especially among young people), poverty, rising prices, and social exclusion. In Libya, leader Colonel Moammar Gaddafis violent attempts to quell protests in Tripoli and other cities has resulted in international outrage, while protesters are gaining control over much of eastern 1

A Review of Events

volume 16, number 47 march 20, 2011

The Old Testament passage for the second Sunday of Advent this year describes the call of Abram and Sarai (later called Abraham and Sarah) to leave their family and homeland (Genesis 12:1-9). God promised that they would be ancestors of a great nation and a blessing to all the people on earth. In this call we see Gods intention to bless humanity. Abram and Sarai had to leave behind the familiar and set out on a journey with many unknowns. Their only guarantee was Gods promise. This journey would take them to new places and relationships and would require them to rethink what it meant to be faithful to God. More than a thousand years later, Paul referred to this story in his letter to the Romans (Romans 4:1-5, 13-17). Like Abraham and Sarah, Paul had had to leave the familiar behind and answer Gods call to become a Christian missionary. The Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Lent is John 3:1-17, in which Jesus invited Nicodemus into a new relationship with God. Many readers of this story stop at the often-quoted verse 16 and do not proceed to verse 17, which speaks of Gods vision for the whole world.

Core Bible Passages

Libya, where plans are underway for an interim government. In Bahrain, protesters have called for constitutional reform. Sunni ruler King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa is slowly responding to the demands of the movement. On February 24, Algeria lifted a state of emergency ordered 19 years ago that had banned protest marches. Protestors there have been calling for a peaceful transition to democracy. In Yemen, widespread anti-government demonstrations have called for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Activists in Saudi Arabia have called for political reformincluding a constitutional monarchyof this highly restrictive nation. Aging King Abdullahs promises of reform have stalled as his relatives squabble over who will be his successor. In Oman, protestors want jobs, higher wages, and political reforms. In Morocco, there have been mostly peaceful demonstrations calling for political reforms, a new constitution, and more limited power for King Mohammed VI. Following violent protests on February 27, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq called for his cabinet to enact government reforms. In Lebanon, protestors are demanding changes in governance. As protests grow through the Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East, similar grievances are voiced: unemployment, poverty, dictatorial rule, inadequate public services, governmental reform, corruption, free speech, and a free press. Many of the issues are directly connected with human-rights violations. For Christians, human rights are to be afforded to all human beings because all are made in the image of God. We cannot say that some people are made in the image of God and others are not. As creatures in the image of God, all persons deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Bishop Kenneth Carder writes in his book Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, How we treat ourselves and othersand how we form communities and nationsis determined by the image we have of human beings. The reality of human sin and evil distorts but does not remove the image of God in humankind. Gods intention is the restoration of the divine image. The prophets expressed it in terms of Gods vision of shalom: peace and harmony in all creation. In this age of the Internet, social networking, cell phones, and constant news availability, we cannot live in isolation from other human beings who suffer around the world. Our commitment to live out the commandments to love God and neighbor means that we are to care for neighbors globally. One way of doing that is by supporting human rights. That God loves humanity and wants us to love humanity supports our concern about human rights. The Old Testament and the New Testament teach us to love God and neighbor and to stand with the poor, the weak, and the oppressed. When we act out of love for neighbors near and far, we are working for Gods vision for the world: justice, peace, wholeness, and harmony. 2

Christians and Human Rights

Copyright 2011 by Cokesbury. Permission given to copy this page for use in class.

volume 16, number 47 march 20, 2011

For clarity, this FAITHLINK is entitled North Africa and the Middle East: Calls for Change because there is no single, agreed-upon definition of the Middle East. The online Encylopedia Brittannica defines Middle East as the lands around the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula and Iran and sometimes beyond. The central part of this general area was formerly called the Near East. About 30 percent of the population in the Middle East is between the ages of 15 and 29. Only 20 percent of the US population is in that age group. Levels of education have increased in recent years, but the number of jobs has not. In the past, educational degrees led to government jobs; but an increase in market-oriented economies has reduced the number of such jobs. Professor Ragui Assaad at the University of Minnesota explains the link between economic and political issues in the region. He says that formerly, governments had a kind of implicit bargain with the people saying they would give them jobs, subsidized housing, and commodities in exchange for their unquestioning allegiance to authoritarian rule. Now, Assaad says, a number of countries have been unable to do that and have had to abrogate the bargain, so to speak, on their side. And so young people are saying if were not getting the goods, we might as well have a voice and democratic choice [in] what the governments do.Copyright 2011 by Cokesbury. Permission given to copy this page for use in class.

Middle East: Definition and Demographics

The whole drama of history, observed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is enacted in a frame of meaning too large for human comprehension or management. The daily television news we get does not provide even a small frame of meaning. When we stop at the factual and do not reflect on the larger context, we take a superficial look at what is happening. The larger context is peace and justice for all of creation. The larger context is the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God that is breaking into our world even now. Our Christian faith and hope call us to pay attention to those places and events in which God is transforming the world toward peace and justice. Writing on his blog about the current uprisings in the Middle East, Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, makes the case that people of faith are c