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The Christadelphian | March 2011

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial You call me teacher and Lord
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Thy faith hath saved thee” | David Gouldingay
  • The Messiah in Zechariah Part 4 | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Change is our portion now | Sally Wright
  • The fatherhood of Christ | Bruce Gurd
  • Between the Testaments 3 – The influence of culture and religious thought | Peter Caudery
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 15 – The Lord is there | Andrew E. Walker
  • Obadiah | Dudley Fifield
  • Signs of the times Revolution in Egypt | John H. Morris
  • Israel and their land Greater isolation
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Signs of the Times

Revolution in Egypt

THE toppling of the regime in Tunis, reported last month, has been quickly followed by political disturbances across North Africa and the Middle East, the most notable focus of unrest being Egypt where, after thirty years as president, Hosni Mubarak has been forced to step down. With a population exceeding eighty million, Egypt (more correctly the Arab Republic of Egypt) is the largest country in the region and is a key player in the maintenance of stability in the Middle East. The convulsions there in recent weeks have been compared with the upheavals in Eastern Europe in 1989. Humanly speaking it is too early to say where events will lead, but Bible believers can already see their potential significance for the outworking of latter-day prophecy.

Egypt in Bible times – and recently

Egypt is an ancient nation: though often grouped with the Arabs, and Arabic-speaking, it is of Hamitic, not Semitic, origin and distinctive in its culture. Its Arabic name is Masr or Misr, which connects directly back to Mizraim, the second son of Ham (Genesis 10:6).

For thousands of years, its history was intertwined with that of Israel. Abraham went down into Egypt; Joseph, and later his father and brothers, sojourned in the land, leaving under Moses when the Egyptians imposed hard bondage. Solomon brought horses out of Egypt, and married Pharaoh’s daughter. Egypt was sometimes an ally, at other times a foe, in the days of the kings. The Septuagint was translated by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus. Many Jews fled there after AD 70, and many returned 1,900 years later to the newly formed State of Israel. Curiously the Acts of the Apostles makes scarcely any reference to the preaching of the Gospel in Egypt: ecclesias will have been established there but Christianity, in the form of the Coptic Church, went the same way as the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Before we review recent events, it will be useful to look back on happenings during the past hundred years which have led to the current situation. In 1914, after Britain’s war with Turkey had begun, Egypt (which had been part of the Ottoman Empire) became a British protectorate; there was a British military presence until 1956. However, in 1922, after a revolt, Britain granted Egypt nominal independence and Sultan Fuad became king. He was followed by King Farouk, whom the military later blamed for Egypt’s dismal performance in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war: Farouk was deposed in 1952 in a military coup. Gamal Abdel Nasser was installed as president in 1956 and one of his first actions was to nationalise the Suez Canal. In an attempt to retain control of the canal, the British and French, with Israeli help, initiated an invasion but were prevented by international pressure from seeing it through. This saw the end of Britain’s century of involvement with Egypt. The Soviet Union became Egypt’s major sponsor in the period 1955 to 1975, providing both arms and advisors. Russia supervised (and funded) the building of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1970.

Egypt and Israel

In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel attacked its Arab neighbours, routed the Egyptian army and annexed the Sinai Peninsula. In 1973, in the Yom Kippur War, Egypt (along with Syria) surprised Israeli forces by their incursions into Sinai and the Golan Heights, captured during the Six-Day War; but Egypt subsequently turned military defeat into political victory when Israel handed back Sinai. Under Anwar Sadat, who became president in 1970, Egypt switched its allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States. Sadat’s historic visit to Israel led, in 1979, to an Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty – and Egypt’s expulsion from the Arab League. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 and was succeeded by his then deputy Hosni Mubarak.

The US has given increasing support to President Mubarak, seeing him as a force for stability in the Middle East. To a large extent, American leaders have turned a blind eye to the abuses of the decades of military rule. Mubarak used emergency powers to suppress opposition. The people, living in fear of the security police, needed only the spark generated by the coup in Tunisia to rise in revolt. While many of the protesters were the youth of the country, communicating by Facebook and Twitter, as the protest grew all sections of society became involved, adding their voices to the call for Mubarak to go. During eighteen days of protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and in other cities, there were several hundred casualties. Early on, however, the security police evaporated, and the army showed itself passive or even supportive of the revolution: it appears that most of them actually shared the protesters’ demands to remove Mubarak, fearing that he would contrive a situation where his son Gamal would assume the Presidency.

Mubarak in the end fled to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. He left the army in control and, as this magazine goes to press, it would appear that military leaders, having suspended the Constitution and Parliament, have managed to convince the people that there will be free elections to bring about a democratic government. Whether this will happen has yet to be seen.

What will be the wider outcome of the present upheavals? For at least thirty years, American support for both Egypt and Israel has actually served to avoid a further all-out Middle East war – simply because the largest player, Egypt, was bound by ties to the US and a treaty with Israel. That may now change. The nations of the Middle East will all be reassessing their political strategies. Iran has applauded the people of Egypt for ousting a US-backed government, pointing to a parallel when the Shah of Persia was removed in 1979, and claims that “a new Middle East is emerging without the Zionist regime and US interference”. Iran will look for opportunities to fill the present vacuum, backing groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia has seen Egypt as an ally and a bulwark against Iran’s influence: the autocratic Saudi rulers will be nervous about developments. The Palestinians will find encouragement in the unleashing of populist feeling in the Arab world, knowing that a majority of Arabs support their cause. Israel must be alarmed at the real possibility of a shift in American attitudes: to counteract Iranian influence, the US may be forced now to be more accommodating to the interests of the Arab world. So many scenarios are possible.

Meanwhile, the tremors of revolution are spreading to other countries: already there have been demonstrations in the Palestinian West Bank, in Jordan, Yemen, Iran and Bahrain. Protest in Saudi Arabia is not unthinkable. There has been ferment in Algeria and Libya, and potentially other countries of North Africa, perhaps even elsewhere in Africa. There are hints of unrest in countries in Central Asia such as Tajikistan whose rulers fear revolt from Islamist extremists. Who knows whether revolution could come closer to home for all of us?

Egypt and the fulfilment of prophecy

What place does Egypt have in relation to latter-day Bible prophecy? Early Christadelphian writings on the subject focused particularly on Daniel 11: “The king of the south shall push at him: and the king of the north … shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape … he shall have power … over all the precious things of Egypt” (verses 40-43). Brethren initially saw Egypt as the southern power pushing at Turkey; later it was the British in this role, attacking Turkish forces in Palestine. It was indeed Britain’s actions then which helped to prepare the Land for the return of the Jews – “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee” (Isaiah 43:3). But there must surely be a further fulfilment of Daniel 11 when the northern invader comes down. We have to await the full outworking of this prophecy.

After the signing of the 1979 Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt, there was the following comment under “Signs of the times” (see The Christadelphian, May 1979, page 189): “The significance of this ‘peace agreement’ … is that the US government through its president has committed itself to play a positive role in opposing the communist drive in the Middle East. So a ‘southern block’ of America, Egypt and Israel has been formed to resist pressure which will come mainly from the North. This is the pattern which Bible prophecy leads us to expect”. Of course, the threat from the North is no longer communist but it is still real. The question now is how a new Egyptian government will view the peace treaty with Israel and precisely what Egypt’s role will be in the ‘southern block’ at the time of the Gogian invasion. In fact, other prophecies suggest that Israel will be a “people that dwell alone” (Numbers 23:9), without allies or bilateral treaties, so that abrogation of the treaty with Egypt, or even the one with Jordan, should not surprise us.

In a “Signs of the times” written after the Suez Crisis, this was the concluding paragraph – and the words remain true today as we await the final outworking of God’s purpose: “Beyond all the conflict and passion we look for the day when even Egypt shall be healed, and shall form one with Israel and Assyria in the three-fold axis at the centre of a new world order of righteousness and peace; when the Lord of hosts shall say, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people … and Israel mine inheritance’” (The Christadelphian, 1956, page 389).

JOHN H. MORRIS

 

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