EgyptFollowing recent events in Egypt, many in the West are thrilled at the prospect of democracy emerging in this regionally strategic country.  There is a euphoria that keeps us watching the news updates, willing the demonstrators on.  We believe these are historic times.  There are, in fact, many parallels between the current popular demonstrations which have taken place not only in Egypt but in several other countries in the Near East/Middle East/North Africa (NEMENA) region, and the uprisings against Soviet rule in much of east and central Europe two decades ago.  There is a similar sense of hope and optimism that people power can unseat dictators and topple regimes.

Before we get too excited, we should remember that democracy has not yet broken out either in Egypt, where they have merely replaced an unpopular military dictatorship with an untried one, or in Tunisia, where individual government members have changed but the regime continues.  Other leaders in the NEMENA region may have reshuffled the government to make a show of listening to their subjects, but in reality may be more than willing to use force to crush opposition demonstrations and maintain their grip on power.

We should also remember what happened to those European countries in the post-Soviet era.  In the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, 18 European countries gained independence or toppled a communist regime.  However, far from being rosy, their subsequent history has largely been squalid and violent.  While there have been some success stories, these countries are in the minority.  Some of the others have subsequently broken up, many have experienced civil war or open conflict with their neighbours, even undergoing genocide in some circumstances.  In several, democracy is far from stable, often compromised by military power or mafia dollars, and some experience little freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  Many are still cripplingly poor and life expectancy is short.  Even the former East German states are still significantly poorer than their West German counterparts.  It seems that in Europe, the democracy which we prize above everything else does not necessarily bring all the answers.

How then can we expect it to be any different in NEMENA?  Many countries in the region are already in circumstances similar to those outlined above.  Civil war, armed conflict, totalitarianism, corruption and poverty are no strangers to these countries.  Is democracy really going to be able to offer a solution to these problems?  Has the ‘democracy’ which the West imposed on Iraq made that country a safer, wealthier, fairer place to live?  The Christians living in Baghdad would not think so.

Toppling dictators who oppress their own people and enrich themselves at the expense of their countries’ poor cannot be a bad thing.  What replaces them can, however, be equally bad.  Into a post-dictatorial power vacuum can step ruthless forces, whether economic, military or spiritual, which can hijack a fledgling democracy for their own nefarious purposes.  Often the general public, having experienced years of corruption and poverty, are only too keen to vote for a strong man who offers peace, security, wealth and… salvation.  In this volatile region, the last thing we need emerging is a false messiah.

Let us pray for these countries: that God’s hand will be on them, for His will to prevail, and for the Christians to be bold in their affliction, and comforted in their suffering.