Israel’s new allies
Until recently, the Arab world presented itself as a united bloc, particularly when condemning Israel for Palestinian suffering and even for Arab misery in general.
However, this large bloc is disintegrating with surprising speed. Regional powers like Turkey, Qatar and Sudan continue to bash Israel, but Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and especially Egypt have shown a new cooperative spirit with Israel.
A recent study by Khaled Abu Toameh for the Gatestone Institute noted many Arabic press reports voiced support for Israel’s military operation against Hamas. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sami Shukri squarely blamed Hamas for the mounting Palestinian casualties after it rejected Cairo’s original truce terms. A leading Egyptian commentator concurred that Hamas was responsible for Palestinian losses.
Others described Hamas rocket attacks on Israel as “idiotic” while criticising Hamas leaders in Doha for living in luxury as their people suffered. Another commentator, Azza Sami, wrote in Al-Ahram: “Thank you Netanyahu and may God give us more people like you to destroy Hamas.”
It is true that the historic rift between Sunni and Shi’a Islam has often led to conflict. But their common hatred of Israel unified the Arabs. Yet today, Israeli officials are surprised by the realignment with Jerusalem of Arab rulers opposed to radical Islamists – whether Sunni or Shi’ite.
“Who would have ever thought that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be our allies in our struggle with Hamas,” a senior Israeli official recently told me.
Arab Spring revisited
This realignment can be seen on other fronts. Syria and Iraq are being torn apart by rival rebel groups fighting the regimes and one another. The most notorious is ISIS, which is slaughtering countless Christians as well as fellow Muslims who do not share their repressive ideology.
In many ways, the major reshuffle underway in the Middle East was triggered by the Arab Spring ignited in Tunisia in late 2010. Yet this hopeful ‘Spring’ quickly turned into an ‘Arab Winter’ when Egypt voted into power the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Then two years later, an estimated 15 million people (some claim 30 million) took to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities to demand the end of Brotherhood rule. It is considered the largest political protest in human history.
This prompted not only a turn towards more moderate government in Egypt but it also had a ripple effect across the Arab world. Just a few weeks ago, a prominent Saudi commentator wrote that these Egyptian protestors rejecting radical Islam spoke not only for Egypt “but they represent the entire Arab world”.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the atrocities by ISIS in Syria and Iraq have triggered something which 9/11 and other acts of Islamic terrorism abroad could never achieve – an Arab backlash against radical Islam.
After the mass terror attacks in Manhattan, Madrid and London, most Arabs were silent regarding these violent acts against the ‘decadent’ West. But the sceptre of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaida has more and more Muslims today realising that Islamic extremists cannot offer any hope to the Arab world.
The Financial Times recently observed the Arab world is starting to shake off its “long state of denial”, and religious scholars and ordinary people now ask: “What is wrong with us?”
It is a fact that the Arab bloc is one of the most underdeveloped regions in our world today. Four consecutive UN development reports on the Arab states found they have the highest rates of illiteracy and greatest lack of basic rights and freedoms worldwide. For decades, the incredible Arab oil wealth did not go into education, science, research or development, but instead produced a society of consumerism reliant on Western imports.
The Arab millennials
In addition, today’s youth have become a significant force in Arab affairs. In his book “The New Arabs”, journalist Juan Cole describes how the millennial generation is changing the Middle East. These youths have greater access to information than their parents. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are used to recruit new jihadists for ISIS, but they also give Arab Millennials a window into the free world as never before. They helped ignite the Arab Spring four years ago, and later unseated the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
Their voice can even be heard in a recent manifesto released by Gazan youths, saying: “We have enough of the bearded men on our streets who want to force us what to think and how to dress.”
The last giant falling
Meanwhile, for the first time in Islam’s 1 300 years of dominance in the Middle East we see large numbers of people turning to Christ. While ISIS is spreading terror, Arab pastors report unprecedented growth despite the fierce persecution. A decade before the Arab Spring, “Operation World” already reported historic church growth in almost all Muslim states, a trend that has only increased.
I remember well in the 1980s global leaders like Loren Cunningham and David Pawson came to Germany and prophesied the fall of Communism and reuniting of Germany. Some German pastors ridiculed them, as it was the height of the Cold War. But in 1989 everything changed; Communism fell and Germany soon reunified.
I also remember another message from those meetings: “The last giant which will fall after Communism is the giant of Islam.” I personally believe we are seeing today the slow collapse of the stronghold of Islam, which for centuries kept people from freely choosing their religion. It may not mean the end of Islam altogether, but the release of multitudes from a demonic bondage that held them far too long. Communism did not disappear after 1989 but what was removed was its evil, totalitarian control over people.
A region which for generations seemed impenetrable is becoming a house divided. Jesus declared: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
Communism enslaved Eastern Europe for 70 years, while Islam has gripped the Middle East for over 13 centuries. Therefore, change in this region might take longer and be more violent.
Yet the signs of Islam’s decline should not surprise us. For decades, Christians have prayed for revival in the 10/40 window. We need to remind ourselves that we serve a prayer-answering God.
Therefore, let us continue to pray for Israel while also recognising God loves the Arabs and beckons us to pray for them, too. He wants Arabs to be saved!
The origins of the Arab nations go back to Ishmael, son of Abraham and half-brother of Isaac. While God clearly sealed His covenant with the descendants of Isaac, Abraham also pleaded: “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:17) And God answered:
“I will establish My covenant with him [Isaac] for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:19–20)
The time of blessing for Ishmael seems closer than ever.
Years ago, Rabbi Benny Elon strongly challenged me: “Jürgen, please tell the churches to send more missionaries into the Islamic world.”
I asked him why, as rabbis normally are not very fond of missionaries. He replied: “If the Arabs believe what you believe, then we will have peace in the Middle East.”
May this day come soon!