Staff Editorial: Violence in the Middle East demands attention

Though halfway around the world, the upheaval in the Middle East requires staying informed and responding compassionately.

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Chimes Staff, Writer

It shouldn’t be news to us that the Middle East has been in turmoil over the past few weeks. Tunisia’s effective ousting of its president on Jan. 14 not only changed the status quo in that nation, but sparked political unrest and upheaval in other nations, including Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. No country, however, has seen dissent as violent, graphic or radical as Egypt has.

Since Jan. 25, when anti-government protests began, Egypt has taken center stage in the news media. It’s relevant to highlight that the individuals crying out for political change are not vagabonds who have no better way to spend their days than marching the streets of Cairo. The protesters are largely the same ages as Biola students. Many of them are attending university in their twenties and late teens. Those out of school are attorneys, doctors and members of other highly respected fields. Even a well-known Google executive made noise in the media when he helped spur on the protests.

Christians and Muslims unite in prayer

What should hit even closer to home, however are the remarkable, Christ-like acts that have emerged as a result of the riots. More than a handful of touching photographs and stories have slowly trickled out of the region as the news finds its way around the Internet. Over the weekend, stories emerged about Christians circling around Muslims to act as a protective shield while the Muslims prayed. Soon after, Muslims returned the favor.

The photographs of those prayer coverings are like rays of sunshine against a very bleak backdrop. But they are more than just that — they are reminders that many of these protesters are brothers in Christ, even thousands of miles away from California. And, the photographs are a reminder of just how powerful the Lord’s people can be when we pray and live out our faith.

Middle East impacts the West

So, as a nation, what is the United States’ stake in the controversy? How does the upheaval in Egypt affect us here on the other side of the globe?

For starters, The U. S. has long supported current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the president thousands of Egyptians are demanding to be removed from power. In fact, Mubarak has been in office since Gerald Ford’s presidency. The U.S. government believes it is critical to keep as many allies as possible in power in the Middle East for obvious diplomatic reasons. Egypt is, in fact, second only to Israel in terms of nations receiving aid from the U.S. federal government, according to the Congressional Research Service and the USAID. On average, Egypt has received $2 billion from the U.S. annually since 1979. By investing in the governments of allied nations in the region, the U.S. means to sway relations in its favor — or perhaps more importantly, in the favor of Israel.

The U.S. remains Israel’s strongest ally in the West. As an anti-Israel sentiment grows in the region, Israel fears that the new Egyptian government post-revolution would be more hostile towards the tiny nation. A new enemy on an already-jeopardized southern border is not in the best interest of Israel, and therefore, not of the U.S.

This puts the U.S. in an awkward position. The U.S. desperately wants free democracies to crop up in the region, rather than potentially Ahmadinejadian despots (ala Iran). But our nation also has a vested interest in the safety of its allies in the region.

Supporting people as we wait on outcomes

So, who does the U.S. support: current allies, or her interest in democracy and freedom abroad? An answer to that question may not come until we find out just what kind of government is installed when Mubarak is finally ousted.

The one thing we cannot do is distance ourselves from the situation, or forget that the people crying out for change are real people — and many, real believers.

Turning to prayer

So where does that leave us in the U.S.? It leaves us in the same place where we need to be with our own nation’s government — on our knees. We must pray for wisdom for leaders globally, not just in the U.S. May we not forget that the God who has ultimate authority over the U.S. cares for each nation. We must pray that God would install leaders in Egypt who will fulfill his purposes, protecting freedom without promoting an anti-Semitic agenda. And finally, we must pray for the safety and, more importantly, the salvation of the people

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