Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became the second Arab leader in a month to succumb to his people's powerful thirst for freedom. He surrendered to the will of a leaderless revolution and stepped down after 30 years of autocratic rule over the Arab world's most populous nation.
The revolutionary wave is washing rapidly over the entire Middle East, leading to some political reform and perhaps more dramatic restructuring. Where's it all leading?
Revolution and interim government
Historian David Bell in Foreign Policy magazine points to two types of revolutions possible for Egypt's near future.
"The fundamental question being discussed by commentators at present is what shape a new Egyptian revolution might take. Will it come to a quick end with the establishment of a new government—hopefully a democratic one—or will a much more radical, long-lasting revolutionary process develop? . . .
"Anxieties focus . . . on the Muslim Brotherhood and the possibility that Egypt may experience its own Islamic revolution [as happened in Iran more than 30 years ago], with unpredictable consequences, not only for the country itself but for the region and the world" ("Why We Can't Rule Out an Egyptian Reign of Terror," Feb. 7, 2011).
Regardless of which type of revolution is underway, the rigid institutions and laws of a police state left behind by Mubarak are presumably about to change.
In order to push forward the transition to democratic civilian rule, the Egyptian military leaders dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution. They've said they will run the country for six months or until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held.
Furthermore, they are forming a committee to amend the constitution and setting rules for referendums needed for public endorsements. And they confirmed they will abide by all of Egypt's international treaties, including the important peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt's historic position in the heart of the Arab world means that what happens in Egypt does not stay in Egypt. Regardless of the form the new government eventually takes, it will have a powerful resonance across the region.
With expectations of elections still set for later this year, many experts are concerned about the nature of the government that may emerge. Overly hasty democratization could eventually lead to a takeover by repressive Islamists.
Bell further explains that "the crucial point to keep in mind, as events in Egypt unfold, is that even in the best-case scenario— . . . a seemingly stable, democratic, secular government—the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 may still just be getting started. Its crucial moments may lie months, or even years, in the future."
Bell concludes, "Egypt probably does not face the prospect of an Islamic Revolution in the next few months. But if Mubarak . . . is replaced by a weak, unstable series of governments that cannot restore order or deliver serious social and economic reforms—and thus quickly lose credibility and legitimacy among the population—then a different, far more radical revolutionary movement may yet develop. And despite the current lack of a charismatic leader for such a movement, one could quickly emerge out of the torrent of events."
Still, some maintain that Egypt's well-educated middle class and sophisticated elite have enough of a sense of national pride to turn the chaos of street demonstrations into the beginnings of democracy.
And others argue that the well-respected, deeply entrenched Egyptian army will not allow the rise of an Islamist regime. For nearly six decades, the Egyptian armed forces have propped up every one of the nation's autocratic leaders—Mubarak, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser. They were all former military officers.
Strong military influence
The military has gradually lowered its political profile since the 1970s, when top generals were household names. It has been among the country's most respected and least-corrupt institutions and was lauded for restraint during the unrest.
Virtually all Egyptian families have had members in the military, which now numbers nearly half a million. About the same number are in reserves. This is the largest military in the Arab world.
The military budget is estimated to be about $5 billion annually, but some estimates go as high as four times that. Part of this comes from annual military assistance from the United States of $1.3 billion. And many senior officers have completed training programs at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington.
The Egyptian military may well be the ultimate power broker in this time of major political upheaval, as Turkey's military proved to be in 1980, when it overthrew the government to ensure that communists did not exploit the country's political turmoil to seize power.
The military is also not likely to become a de facto government of Egypt. It has not dominated the economy or civil government in the past.
Weak national parties
But the military will likely want to continue its influence. To do so, it must have a political vehicle in place to counter opposition forces, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, whose influence was purged from the military years ago.
How the military will adapt to a coalition government composed of wildly divergent political ideologies remains to be seen. Its influence in the long run is more likely to remain strong if the elections bring in a large number of former ruling party members from the National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP has enjoyed uncontested power in state politics since its creation in 1978.
The other traditional parties and movements that have existed for most of the Mubarak era are the liberal Wafd Party, the socialist National Progressive Union, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most prominent Islamic party. The Brotherhood is the best organized and funded of the three, and its status as an illegal but tolerated organization gives it more autonomy in its finances and internal structure.
There are also a half dozen smaller independent parties that could have representation in the newly elected government.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood, based in Egypt but international in its scope, says it favors democracy and civil rights, yet it wants to establish a government based on religious law (sharia).
Recent polls indicate about 15 percent of Egyptians strongly approve or somewhat approve of the group. About a third stated they'd formed no opinion. In 2005 the group gained 88 seats out of 444 in parliamentary elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamentalist Sunni movement that seeks to spread Islamic law throughout the world. Its members have indicated a desire to revoke Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and increase support for Hamas, which it spawned, and other terrorist groups.
Article 2 of the Brotherhood's bylaws says the group "seeks to establish Allah's law in the land by achieving the spiritual goals of Islam and the true religion." That includes "the need to work on establishing the Islamic State, which seeks to effectively implement the provisions of Islam and its teachings" (quoted in "Mubarak Out, Brotherhood Remains Primed," Right Side News, Feb. 11, 2011).
Who falls next?
Repercussions from the Egyptian revolution are already rippling through the Arab world, threatening autocratic leaders who have long relied on a mixture of brutality and economic subsidies to subdue opposition.
The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is now concerned about Saudi Arabia and Jordan: "Senior U.S. officials say the economic stagnation, youthful populations and simmering political frustration in those kingdoms—echoes of Tunis and Cairo—may provide the spark for widespread political change that could usher out allies in favor of angry, anti-Western opposition movements" ("Mubarak Resignation Creates Political Vacuum for U.S. in Middle East," Feb. 12, 2011).
South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper also sees the swirling impact of revolutionary fever sweeping through other Arab countries where unemployment is high, human development opportunity low, police brutality common and government corruption widespread:
"The conditions in each country are sufficiently different that one cannot predict whether there will be a 'next' . . . Jordan's King Abdullah dissolved the cabinet and appointed a new prime minister; Algeria announced the lifting of the two-decades-old state of emergency; Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he would not contest the next election in 2013; Syria announced it would ease restrictions on certain rights such as free expression . . .
"Furthermore, though potentates in the region might not immediately fall as a result of the two uprisings, they have had profound long-term effects on their peoples . . . If masses of Egyptians can force their government into making concessions, the sentiment goes, then all people can do the same to their governments" ("Egyptian Aftershock Felt Most by Israel," Feb. 11, 2011).
Israel is also being dramatically impacted by these events. Aaron David Miller, a veteran U.S. negotiator with the Israelis, shares these concerns in The Washington Post, stating, "It is impossible to overstate the angst, even hysteria, that Israelis are feeling about their neighborhood" ("Why Israel Fears a Free Egypt," Feb. 4, 2011).
He points out their most dire fears include a radical Islamist government taking over Egypt in time, the breaking of their peace treaty and another war like the ones fought before the treaty was signed in 1979.
"But there's no doubt that a new Egyptian government and president, more responsive to public opinion—indeed, legitimized by the public in free elections—will be, by necessity or inclination, far more critical of Israeli actions and policies and far less likely to give Israel the benefit of any doubts . . .
"Take a tour of the neighborhood through Israeli eyes, and you'll understand why such worries have taken on new urgency. To the north in Lebanon, Hezbollah is now the dominant political force, reequipped with thousands of rockets and backed by Syria and Iran. To the east there's Jordan, with which Israel also has a peace treaty and whose government was just changed after protests sparked by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.
"In the West Bank and Gaza, there's the Palestinian national movement, which thanks to the Hamas-Fatah split is a veritable Noah's Ark with two of everything—prime ministers, security services, constitutions and governments. And then there's Iran, whose determination to acquire nuclear weapons may force Israel one day to live under the shadow of an Islamic bomb" (ibid.).
Prophetic Arab unity
The statelessness of the Palestinians remains the great unifying cause of the Arab world and continues to breed hostility toward Israel. But Arab unity in general has long been elusive.
Bible prophecy, however, indicates that a stronger Arab confederation will emerge, for however brief a time. Whether united by the spark of revolutionary fever or a slower evolutionary process, many Middle Eastern nations will evidently unite in a confederation determined to eliminate the nation of Israel, as indicated in Psalm 83.
Out of this confederation will likely arise what the prophecy of Daniel 11 refers to as the end-time "king of the South" (a role that earlier in the prophecy referred to the Greek rulers of Egypt following Alexander the Great). The king of the South at the time of the end is prophesied to strike at the king of the North (the ruler of Europe in this end-time setting) in some kind of attack, prompting a retaliation in which the forces of the North will occupy lands of the South—including Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya (Daniel 11:40-43).
Soon after this the world will be plunged further into devastating world war. Only God's intervention through Jesus Christ's return will save humanity from self-destruction (see Matthew 24:22; Revelation 11:15). The good news is that God promises to bless Egypt and will turn its people and the entire world to Him, healing the hurts between Egypt and Israel and other nations (see Isaiah 19:22-25).
To learn more about these prophecies and what they reveal about end-time events, be sure to read our free booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy. WNP