Current Events & Trends
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Current Events & Trends: January/February 2018
Egypt faces growing terrorism danger
While the entire Middle East continues to struggle against the spread and violence of Islamic extremism, the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is fighting back an increasingly tense and dangerous situation in its eastern region.
While the area of Sinai is best known as the setting of ancient Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, it’s now becoming known as a hotbed of terrorism and sectarian violence, with several different extremist groups, including ISIS, conducting operations in the peninsula. So far Egyptian forces have been unsuccessful in holding back the surge, which is which is pushing closer to the country’s population centers.
The New Yorker points out: “Egypt’s situation is reminiscent of the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egyptian forces hold military bases, operate checkpoints, and carry out periodic patrols in armored convoys—but they can’t control much of the countryside. Sisi may reign as the most powerful strongman among the rulers of the more than twenty Arab countries. But his strategy in Sinai, so far, is not working” (Robin Wright, “Egypt Is in Trouble, and Not Just From ISIS,” Nov. 27, 2017).
Despite some severe setbacks in the past year, Islamic extremism in its various organizations—ISIS, al-Qaeda and the like—is alive and well in its native Middle East and North Africa. On Nov. 24, 2017, a Sufi Mosque in northern Sinai was the target of a brutal attack that left more than 300 dead and at least another 100 injured, making it the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.
Time will tell whether Egypt will recover from its disastrous last seven years, kicked off by 2010’s Arab Spring. (Source: The New Yorker.)
Time on video game: All play and no work?
A recent study reveals that young men without college degrees are having a hard time justifying taking available jobs and turning to something else. “Economists from Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago say that [besides some remaining weakness in the economy] an additional reason many of these young men—who don’t have college degrees—are rejecting work is that they have a better alternative: living at home and enjoying video games” (Ana Swanson, “Why Amazing Video Games Could Be Causing a Big Problem for America,” The Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2016).
The 2008 recession not only affected the housing industry but jobs as well. Each month there are reports on how the job market is doing and what projections look like for the upcoming months. Many of these young men who were struggling are now making the choice to remain unemployed: “The researchers are not merely saying that young men, out of work, are turning to video games. They’re saying that increasingly sophisticated video games are luring young men away from the workforce” (ibid.).
This will have an effect on their long-term careers and success in life. Rather than gaining job experience and moving up the ladder in their 20s, that process is pushed off until later, hurting not only their future families, but the overall job market as well. (While video game play has increased for those with college degrees as well, employment figures for this group appear unaffected so far.)
Such devotion to video games is an extreme case of pleasure-seeking. Everyone in a first-world society is susceptible to this kind of instant gratification, whether it be through video games, social media, binge TV watching or other avenues.
The Bible warns of a time when men will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). Nearly a quarter (22 percent) of men who have less than a bachelors degree have found themselves on a potentially dangerous path of self-involvement with shallow rewards. The United States has been blessed tremendously, yet abundance often too easily leads to an apathy toward what it takes to become and remain personally successful—hard work, determination, resourcefulness and grit. (Source: The Washington Post.)
Old dangers continue to threaten Israel
One might think that recent severe blows to ISIS’ reach and influence in Syria would be good news for the Jewish state of Israel, which shares its northeast border with Syria. However Middle East politics are rarely as simple as they seem, and ISIS’ retreat and the strengthening of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime may lead to difficult times ahead for Israel.
Israel’s troubles have persisted since its founding in the spring of 1948. Within hours, a coalition of Arab states declared war on the fledgling country and invaded on multiple fronts. Nine months later, Israel emerged victorious and has been fighting for its right to exist ever since. Now, in all the shuffling and power shifts currently under way in the Middle East, the old threat of a hostile coalition may arise again.
A recent Geopolitical Futures article points out: “Israel’s biggest fear isn’t invasion by one enemy; it has the military and advantageous geography to resist any single invader in the region. The country’s nightmare scenario is a well-coordinated invasion by multiple powers. (Had the coalition of Arab states that attacked Israel in 1948 been better coordinated, it might have defeated Israel.)
“The civil war in Syria, therefore, was actually the silver lining in the [2011 Arab Spring] uprising in Egypt for the Israelis. At the same time that Israel was dreading the return of past demons in Egypt, its enemies to the north were suddenly incapacitated” (Jacob Shapiro, “In Israel, Danger Is on the Horizon,” Nov. 28, 2017).
A new invading coalition is the nightmare scenario for Israelis, because there might not be much that could be done if it became a reality. Currently Israel is looking to Saudi Arabia to be an unlikely ally against their mutual enemy in Iran, but any pan-Arab coalition against Israel could include Saudi Arabia as a key member.
While currently in a fairly secure position, the forecast is, as always, sobering for the state of Israel. (Source: Geopolitical Futures.)
Is the Philippines the newest front in the war on terror?
Member states of the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria are quick to crow the defeat of the group and the return of stability to the region. While it’s too early to claim a full victory, there is also the issue of affiliate groups outside the Middle East. Some groups are fully associated with ISIS with personnel and material support, while others are ISIS-inspired and eager to pursue the deadly goals of the parent organization.
Now foreign policy experts are looking ahead to the future of Islamic radicalism, and they see the Philippines as a prime target for further incursion.
A Foreign Policy article assesses: “The Philippines is likely to remain a ripe target due to its large Muslim population, the presence of pre-existing radical Islamist violent and nonviolent fringe movements, the permissiveness of its formal and informal financial systems, weak local institutions, and a leader in Duterte who is heading an administration that has overseen a crisis in Marawi that has resulted in dozens of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands displaced” (Patrick Johnston and Colin Clarke, “Is the Philippines the Next Caliphate?” Nov. 27, 2017).
Radical Islam and its accompanying violence are not merely regional phenomena in the Middle East. Extremism is an international scourge capable of spreading thousands of miles away from the source. And it seems the increasingly unstable land of the Philippines may provide fertile ground for ISIS-style action in coming months. (Source: Foreign Policy.)
U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
On Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise in announcing that the United States was officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that he was ordering that plans be made to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The announcement was immediately decried by various world leaders, many claiming this will ignite further regional conflict—though that seems likely to come no matter what. And of course, it remains to be seen if the embassy relocation will actually happen since a few years have been given for planning and construction that may end beyond the current presidential term.
It’s about time that the U.S. government obeyed its own law in this regard. Congress passed a law to do this back in 1995, and it passed overwhelmingly—93-5 in the Senate and 374 to 37 in the House of Representatives. Yet it allowed the president a six-month waiver for national security reasons, and that waiver has been used by past presidents every six months for 22 years! It’s really a disgrace. The call to relocate was reaffirmed this past year in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 0 on June 5, 2017.
James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation wrote, “The long-delayed, symbolic move addressed a historic injustice: Israel is the only country in the world not allowed to choose its own capital” (Heritage.org, Dec. 7, 2017)—or at least to have its choice respected.
Frankly, the recognition should have come with Israeli statehood in 1948. The reason this has taken so long is because of longstanding Western concession to Islamic violence and the idea that acknowledging Jewish claims to Jerusalem will impede peace negotiations.
Yet Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro said on Fox News, Dec. 6: “What President Trump is doing is not just a recognition of reality, it’s also an act of political usefulness, because all of the negotiations that have been happening for the past 20 years . . . have been preconditioned on stupidity, that Israel was going to give up its eternal capital, which is insane. In order to understand how dumb that is, you have to think that for Israel, Jerusalem is about 1000 times more important than Washington, D.C. is to the United States” (quoted at DailyWire.com).
Of course, the Bible repeatedly declares Jerusalem as the focal place for the people of Israel and Judah: “For David said, ‘The Lord God of Israel has given rest to His people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem forever’” (1 Chronicles 23:25). And “Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord” when Jesus reigns over all nations (Jeremiah 3:17). But before then, the city will be the center of world conflict (Zechariah 12:1-3). May we all be sure to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).
To learn more about where events in this region are headed, read our free study guide The Middle East in Bible Prophecy. (Sources: The Heritage Foundation, Daily Wire.)
Systematic abuse in Venezuela
The Financial Times recently reported on the abuse that prisoners are allegedly receiving in the South American socialist dictatorship of Venezuela:
“Venezuela’s security forces asphyxiated, electrocuted and sexually abused prisoners and forced them to eat food full of cigarette ash, insects and excrement during this year’s crackdown on anti-government protesters” (Gideon Long, “Venezuela Accused of ‘Systematic’ Abuse of Prisoners,”Nov. 28, 2017).
In hearing a horrific description like this, we might assume it must refer to a localized instant in one prison. Yet that’s evidently not the case here. The report continues, “The combination of widespread brutality, systematic abuses including torture, and the guaranteed impunity with which they are being committed suggests government responsibility at the highest levels.”
The situation is awful. Thankfully, change will ultimately come. Beyond Today proclaims a message of hope of salvation through Jesus Christ and the coming Kingdom of peace that He will usher in at His return. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords will establish a fair and right system of government unlike anything the world has ever seen. (Source: Financial Times.)