On a recent trip to Egypt I was the typical tourist, traveling by bus to the major tourist sites at Giza and Luxor. We sailed on the Nile and put our lives in danger crossing the busy streets of Cairo. But behind the tourist façade, it was evident that Egypt has a measure of domestic turmoil that could lead to major changes in the future.
Armed soldiers are everywhere, not only at the tourist sites where terrorists struck in the past. In 1997 terrorists bombed a German tour group at Luxor. Now you see dozens of armed soldiers around hotels and shopping areas throughout the city. A little study into the current Egyptian political climate shows the soldiers are not only protecting the tourists but the political regime as well.
Since the start of this year, President Hosni Mubarak has made strong moves to stop dissent among political opponents. Charges of fraud have been made against a lawyer who opposed Mubarak in last fall's elections. Two judges who accused the government of rigging the elections are facing dismissal from the bench for making public comments. One of them, Judge Hisham Bastawisi, suffered a major heart attack last month, which aroused the seething anger of a sympathetic public, resulting in large public demonstrations against President Mubarak.
The Egyptian judiciary was responsible for calling the fraud of last year's elections. Thousands of judges called for reform that would create an independent judiciary. Reports suggest that these opposition judges are joined with a coalition of religious and secular organizations that seek an end to the Mubarak era.
Hosni Mubarak has been president since that fateful day in 1981 when religious fundamentalists stormed a reviewing stand and assassinated President Anwar Sadat. Mubarak sat next to Sadat that day and no doubt vividly remembers the brutal power of religious fury.
In recent weeks, protestors on the streets of Cairo have suffered beatings and some female protestors have been sexually abused. Laws governing presidential voting in Egypt are under the complete control of the president, despite limited reforms.
On May 25, 300 Egyptian judges stood in a silent protest on the steps of the high court in Cairo to press their demands for full independence. "We are calling for the independence of the judiciary…and our complete supervision of elections if there is to be supervision from now on," said Ahmed Salah, a judge at the protest. One observer said, "It's like Egypt has been reborn" (www.gulf-times.com).
Last month more than 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested in the latest wave of demonstrations. This banned Islamic organization, whose roots are deep in fundamentalist Islam, has done well in parliamentary elections, demonstrating its broad base of support.
In recent months, the Muslim Brotherhood adopted a moderate position on political issues. Leaders continue to call for a democratic government that respects the rights of all minorities rather than establishing an Islamic state. Whether this would change should the group gain control of the government is another matter. So-called moderate approaches often are only skin-deep and merely mask the true nature of movements.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928. It is a religious, political and social movement with membership throughout the Arab world. Its mission seems summed up in its creed, "God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations."
In its early decades, it was a political and social revolutionary movement. In 1954, the group was implicated in a plot to assassinate then President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Since then, the government has treated the group as illegal, yet has shown the group sporadic toleration.
Present trends indicate large grassroots support. In last fall's parliamentary elections, Muslim Brotherhood candidates won nearly 20 percent of the seats. They now form the largest body of opposition to the government. Clearly the group will be a player in Egyptian politics going forward.
Last month President Mubarak turned 78, and while he still seems to be fit and in control, speculation has already started as to who will succeed him in office. That may be why we are seeing popular agitation over the electoral process.
It is well known that President Mubarak has been grooming his son, Gamal, to take over. But by all appearances, this is an unacceptable solution for most Egyptians. A sign of the Bush administration's awareness of this reality came last month when Gamal Mubarak was in Washington on private business and had a meeting with National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. While he was in this meeting, President Bush dropped by to greet Gamal Mubarak and to send his best wishes to his father, President Mubarak.
The United States is walking a fine line in Egyptian relations. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has been in the Middle East saying America would no longer stand by despots but would press for democratization in countries where absolutism prevails. The Bush administration's policy is to push democratic reforms. Iraq is the primary focus for this experiment in creating democracies in this volatile region. Critics of American foreign policy claim a double standard when countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia seem to get a "pass" for democratic reform.
The practical reality is that Egypt, and President Mubarak specifically, is a major ally in the Middle East. Egypt has been the recipient of more than $2 billion in direct economic assistance from the United States each year since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. The Egyptian army is one of the largest and best equipped among Arab countries. America needs the support of this country. That is why it has ignored some of these "undemocratic" moves.
The question is whether this will prove to be a problem should a more fundamentalist Islamic government come to power in the future. This is what happened in the late 1970s when the shah of Iran, a key American ally, was deposed in the Islamic revolution that swept the Ayatollah Khomeini and other clerics into power. American intelligence failed to foresee this event, which has continuing repercussions on American influence in the region to this day. The loss of Egypt in a similar manner could lead to major changes, ones that would not bode well for Western interests in the region.
The Bible points to Egypt
The Bible centers on this area of the Middle East in the fascinating prophecy about the king of the South in Daniel 11. In this prophecy (set at the time of the end, prior to Christ's return to earth), a conflict arises between two figures, the king of the North and the king of the South.
Notice verse 40: "At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through."
Bible scholars have long identified the king of the North as the leader of a power centered in Europe. The king of the South is a leader of a power to the south of Jerusalem. (Directions in this and other biblical prophecies are determined from Jerusalem.)
Looking at the modern geopolitical picture, we conclude that this person, the king of the South, will likely be an individual who manages to unite the Arab/Islamic powers of the Middle East and mount some kind of push or attack that threatens the growing power of the king of the North. (We do not have space for all the details here, but please read our booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy for a more detailed examination of this prophecy.)
Who this person will be and exactly which nations will make up this southern power is not known at this time. History teaches us that times and events usually bring great men to power at the moment of crisis to lead major movements. Often these people come out of relative obscurity and can be someone least expected to lead powerful forces.
But to carry on with Daniel's prophecy, verses 41-43 show the path that the king of the North takes in his response to the move of the king of the South.
"He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels."
Egypt and Libya are two North African countries specifically mentioned. This power from the north will occupy them.
Why is Egypt targeted? Is it the political center of this southern alliance? Egypt has once before attempted to unite Arab power into one bloc. In 1952 Egyptian General Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the corrupt monarchy of King Farouk. His dreams of a pan-Arabic league of states were never fully realized.
As mentioned earlier, Egypt has a large, well-equipped modern army, among the largest in the Middle East. If this army were to form the nucleus of a regional force, it would be logical the country would be taken out by a counterattack. The Bible mentions these nations for a reason. We can only look at the current geopolitical scene and watch closely the events taking place in these areas mentioned in prophecy.
Egypt was the breadbasket of the ancient Roman Empire. Her political stability was crucial to the long-term prosperity of Rome. Egypt and its leaders attracted the interests of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Pompey. Perhaps the long ago battles and intrigues in that fabled land presage a future conflict that draws forces across its borders. Time will tell. WNP