This past Sunday I preached on the 10 plagues of Egypt during the reign of history’s most ego-maniacal pharaoh; Ramses II. It will air in a few weeks and I predict it will have you saying, “Oh my”, “Oh ya” or “Oh no.” I specifically made no mention of the current uprising in Egypt knowing well that the situation could change overnight and make whatever I said seem hopelessly outdated. But, as I am sure you are aware, I have some thoughts on it since I have thoughts on EVERYTHING!
We were in Egypt 4 years ago as part of our 25th wedding anniversary gift to ourselves. It was for me the trip of a lifetime. As a history buff, being up close and personal with 4500 years of history was a dream come. But there was another side of Egypt that was as impossible to miss as the pyramids… the majority of people live in a constant state of mid-grade poverty and a high-grade oppression. Meanwhile their president, Hosni Mubarak, lives in palatial elegance, more like a modern day Egyptian pharaoh, than a political leader. Egypt has two major industries; tourism and the Suez Canal. Incredibly, the proceeds from the Suez Canal go directly to Mubarak to do with whatever he pleases. His personal fortune is estimated at over $40 billion and it is carefully kept in offshore banks all over the world. He has been in power for 30 years, controls the media and bans all political opposition. The elections are a farce as he is the only name on the ballot. He is a corrupt dictator who is known to use torture and police brutality to maintain his despotic rule.
While we were there we visited what they euphemistically call a ‘Carpet School’. This is where young children from poor families go to learn a trade. The trade is hooking carpets. They work 12 hours a day, six days a week and get paid a dollar a day. When I asked the owner where the children go to class to learn to read and write he looked at me like I was crazy. ”We teach them a trade so they don’t end up on the street,” he defensively responded. The carpet schools are nothing more than state sponsored child labour factories. This boy showed me what they do all day. I was horrible at it and he had to undo my whole row and redo it. I slipped him a dollar when the boss wasn’t looking.
At the moment Mubarak has cut off internet and cell phone service to the entire nation. He has little regard for the actual people of Egypt and his selfish greed has prevented the nation from moving forward in democracy and prosperity. When we were there I kept asking people what they thought of him and to my surprise they all liked him. When I asked about the incredible wealth from the Suez Canal going into his pocket they would say that he deserved it for doing a good job of running the country. It was perplexing to me at the time because it seemed so obviously out of whack. So when people have been asking me in the last few days what I think of the situation in Egypt, my response is; It’s about time!
What many Westerners are just finding out now is that Mubarak is in power at least in part due to US foreign policy. Egypt has been a huge American ally in the Arab world for these past 3 decades. Mubarak’s ‘dictatorship’ has been propped up to the tune of a billion dollars a year in US foreign aid. The US has a very long track record of picking losers – the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Augusto Pinochet of Chili to name a few… or for that matter Saddam Hussein in Iraq before his invasion of Kuwait and the Taliban before the US invasion of Afghanistan. I could go on and on but then I would be accused of anti-American sentiment and that is not at all my point. My point is the world is full of tyrants and we have got to stop supporting them just because it benefits us economically or politically.
Anytime true democracy surfaces in the world it almost always affords an opportunity for the gospel to follow. We are having a particularly hard time in the Arab world. We have a billion Arabs that still need to hear about Jesus and we are barely scratching the surface. In most of these nations it is not even legal to preach the gospel. We have a missionary working in Cairo right now but he has to do so under the radar. Andrew has been quietly labouring there for years in a city of 8 million people who are 80% Muslim. He has an insurmountable task ahead of him but he is faithfully reaching one life at a time.
The situation could go one of two ways in Egypt. We could see a powerful democratic revolution that would be good for the gospel, or an Islamic fundamentalism that swells up to fill the political vacuum, which I think would hurt our cause even more. One thing is for sure, Mubarak is toast, and hopefully we have seen Egypt’s last pharaoh.