There is no doubt that we live in extraordinary days. The Middle East is full of revolutionary uprising. Crowds are overthrowing regimes that have been in place for decades. But what do the people really want? And more importantly perhaps, when the dust has settled, new constitutions have been written, and new laws have been firmly established, what will these countries look like? Will all the dominoes topple, or will the might of existing leaders in some nations defeat the popular uprisings?
There has been surprisingly little discussion of what these crowds are really protesting for. We know they oppose their leaders. But who do they want to lead them? And what kind of system do they want to live under? We hear talk of “democracy” and “the people” ruling. But when a people has been governed by a single totalitarian party, and often by one man, for decades, what will they do with
all their new-found freedom? Indeed, will they truly be free in some cases, or will some form of compromise be forged with the ruling classes?
In the West, we seem to be watching all this unfold in a somewhat bemused way. We don’t say this too openly, but in some cases we actually worry whether democracy will serve our interests in the region. Many national leaders have remained in power with the tacit support of the West, partly because although they do not offer their peoples the same freedom that we enjoy, they have provided us with oil and held back what most assume would be far worse for us: a more Islamic government.
What if the people in some of these nations want a greater involvement of Islam in the public square? Who are we to tell them that is wrong? We do of course worry what it will mean for the Christians living in some of these nations. Will they be free to practice their chosen faith? Or will they suffer what looks like it could be the fate of Said Musa ?
There is a glimmer of hope that some of the crowds swirling around public spaces actually want true freedom of religion. Muslims and Christians protected each other in the Egyptian demonstrations in particular, and protestors spoke of a brotherhood that bridged religious boundaries. We should pray that such sentiments grow in strength and become part of the law in newly constituted states across the region. In this modern interconnected world, it would be wonderful to see states emerge that are truly free and dignified in their treatment of minority groups (including converts).