The Middle East and the shaking of the nations
We are living in tumultous times with historic events coming to pass on almost a daily basis. What are we to make of it. Tony Pearce of 'Light for the Last Days' offers some comments.
first published 14/05/2011
Ed preface: The 'bolding', emphases and paragraph headings have been inserted into the original text in order to assist in reading in an online environment. The sections with a coloured background are supplemental to the main points and can be referred to for fuller explanation.
The Middle East and the Shaking of Nations
by Tony Pearce (published with permission)
Revolutions in the Arab world, sky rocketing fuel and food prices, fears of another economic crisis – what one earth is going on? So far the first months of 2011 have brought a new level of awareness of the dangers facing the present world system.
World food prices reached their highest level ever recorded in January and are set to keep rising for months. Natural disasters around the world have contributed to this problem. Flooding devastated agricultural production in Australia and Brazil this winter.
Russia is still trying to recover from the horrific drought of last summer. Global weather patterns have gone haywire over the past 12 months, and this is putting immense pressure on a global food system that was already on the verge of a major breakdown.
Some of the key food-producing provinces in China are facing their worst drought in 200 years. The drought in China could push up food prices around the world as the Chinese us their massive savings of almost $3 trillion in cash to buy up grain on the world food markets.
This will have an effect on the grain hungry regions of the Middle East which will have to pay more for imported food vital to feeding their populations.
Rising food prices have been cited among the driving forces behind recent popular revolts in North Africa, including the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Another major issue facing the nations, especially in the Middle East, is water shortages. The United Nations and the United States government estimate that by 2015 at least 40 per cent of the world’s population (3 billion people) will live in countries where it is difficult or impossible to get enough water to satisfy basic needs (more on this later in this article).
Soaring price of oil
Unrest in the Arab world has already sent oil prices rising as Libyan oil has been cut off. If this spreads to the Gulf region and above all Saudi Arabia then we could see an unparalleled rise in oil prices with some predicting $250 a barrel which would push up the price to over £2 a litre at the pumps.
In this case surging oil prices will almost certainly spark another financial crisis worldwide.
Is all of this pushing the world towards the last days’ crisis prophesied in the Bible?
Jesus said about the events leading up to His return:
‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.’ Matthew 24.21-22.
In the Revelation we read of a great food crisis hitting the world during the period of the great tribulation:
[Ed note: These verses also refer to protecting the ‘oil and the wine’. The contrast being painted is between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-not’s’; between the majority who have to work all day just to achieve a subsistance level, and the elite who live in luxury with plenty. This is the dynamic behind the troubles in Greece, North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in our world.]
‘So I looked and behold, a black horse and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius.’ (Revelation 6.5-6) (This means a small amount of food available for a day’s wages).
Egypt and the Middle East
The last few months have focussed on the Arab world with revolutions and unrest taking place in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain [and now Syria - Ed.]. In much of the Arab world there is corruption, power and wealth in the hands of a few while the majority are politically suppressed and economically downtrodden. This has sparked off the unrest, which has shaken the region and threatens to spread to other countries.
This also happens to be he region of the world which has most said about it in Bible prophecy. As well as prophesying a return of the Jewish people to Israel and global attention focused on the status of Jerusalem, the Bible also a lot to say about the surrounding countries including Egypt and Babylon (modern region of Iraq / Persian Gulf).
Concerning Egypt there is a prophecy in Isaiah 19 which says: ‘I will stir Egyptian against Egyptian’. There will be civil strife out of which Egypt will come under the power of ‘a cruel master and a fierce king will rule over them.’
The crisis in Egypt has shaken the nations and raises huge issues for the future of that country and the region, including Israel. After the fall of President Mubarak, power has been temporarily given to the military government, pending elections.
But who will then take over the reins of power? What effect will this have on the country of Egypt itself and on Israel? Will a new government even begin to be able to meet the needs of 85 million Egyptians? What will be the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamists in other Arab countries which are going through revolutions?
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Egyptian school teacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928, is the oldest Islamic political group and the world’s most influential. At its founding the Muslim Brotherhood’s stated mission is to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate to implement Islamic Sharia Law world-wide. The term caliphate refers to the first system of government established in Islam, and represented the political unity of the Muslim ‘Ummah’ (nation).
To this end Muhammad Akef, former Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood said in 2004 that he had ‘complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America.’ Muslim Brotherhood leaders have called for ‘reconquest’ of ‘Islamic territories’ from Andalusia (Spain) to Sicily and the Balkans. Muhammad Badi, the current Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, gave an interview to Egypt’s Dream 2 TV. He reiterated, ‘We will continue to raise the banner of Jihad and the Koran in our confrontation with the enemy of Islam ... The Muslim Brotherhood still considers the Zionists to be its main and only enemy.’
Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the fundamentalist group’s spiritual guide made famous by his weekly television show on Al Jazeera, visited Cairo recently to deliver a political sermon to a five million-strong crowd of the Egyptian faithful in Tahrir Square. In a talk given on Al-Jazeera TV on January 9, 2009 he said:
‘Oh Allah, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam. … Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.’
The Muslim Brotherhood did not start the revolution against Mubarak which was mainly led by young secular Egyptians protesting against corruption and lack of freedom in the regime. However if elections come, the most likely beneficiaries of the ‘revolution’ will be the Islamists. Already they have support of about 30% of the population. Under their influence a recent poll found that a majority of Egyptians support stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft, and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion.
There are of course many Egyptians who are strongly opposed to such ideas and in the time before Mubarak was ousted counter demonstrations were organised saying ‘No to the Muslim Brotherhood.’ Most Egyptians do not want to live in an Iranian style theocracy, but neither did the Iranians before the ayatollahs took power.
The fact is that wherever a measure of democratic elections has been introduced in the Arab world, Islamists have benefited. Hamas gained power in the Palestinian Authority which led to its takeover of Gaza. Hezbollah has power in Lebanon.
If this radical Islamic group does increase its power in Egypt, then the next thing we will most probably see is the end of the Israel / Egypt peace treaty that has been in place since 1975. In fact one of the complaints against Mubarak which was evident in the demonstrations against him was that he was seen as a ‘Zionist’ for maintaining the peace with Israel.
If Egypt moves out of the ‘peace camp’ with Israel into the war camp we could be moving towards the fulfilment of Psalm 83 in which the nations around Israel (including the Hagirites / Egyptians) come against Israel with the aim of cutting off Israel that the name of Israel be remembered no more (Ps 83.4). Only the action of the Lord saves Israel from this onslaught of hostile nations who seek to ‘take possession of the pasture lands of the Lord’ (Ps 83.12).
Ecological disaster facing Egypt
Whoever gains power in Egypt will face a huge problem in terms of feeding the population. Egypt is facing an ecological disaster which looks insoluble. If we read on in Isaiah 19.5-10 we find that the prophecy speaks of a situation in the last days affecting the Nile River which will destroy the food grown along its banks and the fish in its waters.
In Genesis we read how there was ‘grain in Egypt’ as the Israelites went down to Egypt in the time of famine. In the days of the Roman Empire, Egypt was the breadbasket of the region, supplying grain to Rome. Today Egypt is a bread basket case, dependent on imported food to feed its 85 million people. Food deprivation and poverty have been a major reason for the recent unrest in the region.
When we look at the map of North Africa we see the dominant feature of the region from Morocco to Egypt is the Sahara Desert. Apart from Egypt the countries of North Africa only have developed areas along the coastal regions. Egypt has developed areas right up to its border with Sudan for one reason only – the Nile River.
For millennia the Nile has supported the fertile strip along its banks in Egypt due to the seasonal flooding which deposited rich sediment carried from downstream onto the surrounding soil. This made the area fertile. The Nile delta region was also rich agriculturally and in fisheries.
The problem with the seasonal flooding was that sometimes there was too much water which damaged the crops and sometimes too little which caused drought. The solution to this was to control the flow of the Nile through the construction of the Aswan High Dam which was built with the help of the Soviets and completed in 1970. The dam has supplied Egypt with a massive amount of hydro electric power and enabled the flooding of the river banks to be regulated.
However this has caused problems. The flooding of the Nile used to bring millions of tonnes of silt on to the arable land along the banks of the Nile and into the Nile Delta area where the river discharged in to the Mediterranean Sea. Today most if this is trapped in the dam at Aswan, while the Mediterranean which used to be kept at bay by the full force of the river, and the fresh silt deposits every year, is eating up the coastline around the delta. As a result the farmlands are now dependent on artificial fertilisers to supplement the soil for growing. These fertilisers cause erosion of the soil and the run off from these fields is responsible for killing fish and shrimp in the Nile River and in the Mediterranean at the river mouth.
The stagnant waters in the Nile Delta area at the entrance to the Sea have encouraged a plague of disease-bearing snails called ‘bilharzia’ here and in the irrigation canals. The dam has halted the yearly supply of silt that farmers relied upon to fertilise their crops. It has hastened the flow of peasants from the countryside to the towns, where their sprawling shanty towns compete with valuable agricultural land. The sardine industry, cotton industry and agriculture of the Nile valley have all been damaged by the damming of the water, and there have been no great advantages to offset these losses.
A further problem now facing Egypt is that downstream lies Ethiopia from where a large proportion of the Nile waters flow. Ethiopia is building a giant dam on the Omo river which feeds into the Nile to develop its own hydroelectricity. This dam is about ready to go into service. Egypt fears that any interference with the headwaters of the Nile could affect its own resources.
In the Nile delta, on what has been one of the most fertile areas in the world, rice farmers have been ordered to plant fewer acres to conserve water as Ethiopia and other nations threaten to siphon away millions of gallons before the river reaches Egypt. Farmers are now abandoning their fields saying it is not worth planting rice and corn for the yields they get.
If you add all this up the prophecy of Isaiah 19.5-10 makes grim reading. ‘The waters of the river will dry up … the canals will stink, the streams of Egypt will dwindle and dry up. The reeds and rushes will wither, also the plants along the Nile, at the mouth of the River. Every sown field along the Nile will become parched, will blow away and be no more. The fishermen will groan and lament. All who cast hooks into the Nile; those who throw nets on the water will pine away.’
Remarkably there is another great river system in the Middle East which has supported a powerful civilisation for millennia – the Tigris – Euphrates rivers in Iraq / the biblical land of Babylon. This too is mentioned in Bible Prophecy as a place where the river will dry up.
‘Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.’ Revelation 16.12.
A water shortage described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq‘s civilisation is threatening to leave up to 2 million people in the south of the country without electricity and almost as many without drinking water.
Down river, where the Euphrates spills out into the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the north-eastern corner of the Persian Gulf, the lack of fresh water has raised salinity levels so high that two towns, of about 3,000 people, on the northern edge of Basra have this week evacuated. ‘We can no longer drink this water,’ said one local woman from the village of al-Fal. ‘Our animals are all dead and many people here are diseased.’
During the last five years, many new dams and reservoirs have been built in Turkey, Syria and Iran, which share the Euphrates and its small tributaries. The effect has been to starve the Euphrates of its lifeblood, which throughout the ages has guaranteed bountiful water, even during drought.
Nowhere is Iraq’s water shortage more stark than in what used to be the marshlands. Towards the Iranian border and south to the Gulf, rigid and yellowing reeds jut from a hard-baked landscape of cracked mud. Skiffs that once plied the lowland waters lie dry and splintering and ducks wallow in fetid green ponds that pocket the maze of feeder streams. The Euphrates, once broad and endlessly green, is now narrow and drab. In parts it is a slick black ooze.
The water crisis is affecting the whole of the region. Jordan, which expects water demand to double in the next 20 years, faces massive shortages because of population growth and a longstanding water dispute with Israel. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is in danger of crossing the ‘red line’ when it becomes irreversibly salinised by salt water springs below it thus cutting off Israel’s main source of water. 19 of Yemen’s 21 main aquifers are no longer being replenished and the government has considered moving Sana’a, the capital city, with around two million people, which is expected to run dry within six years. Algeria and Tunisia, along with the seven emirates in the UAE, Morocco, Iraq and Iran are all in ‘water deficit’ – using far more than they receive in rain or snowfall.
Oil-rich Arab countries have turned en masse to desalination to address this problem. More than 1,500 massive plants now line the Gulf and the Mediterranean and provide much of North Africa and the Middle East’s drinking water. The plants take salty or brackish water, and either warm it, vaporise it and separate off the salts and impurities, or pass it through filters. The problem is that no way has been found to remove the concentrated salt stream that the plants produce. The impurities extracted from the water mostly end up back in the sea or in aquifers and kill marine life.
As a result salt levels in the Arabian Gulf are eight times higher in some places than they should be, as power-hungry water plants return salt to an already saline sea. The higher salinity of the seawater intake reduces the plant’s efficiency and, in some areas, marine life is suffering badly, affecting coral and fishing catches.
The future foretold
All of this is a sign of the last days’ prophecies of the Bible coming to pass. As the rivers dry up and the fish die in the sea we see the potential for a catastrophe which the Bible warned us of centuries ago. The only hope is the return of the Lord Jesus to sort out the mess humanity has made of the planet and to restore the earth in the Millennium or Messianic Kingdom.
Interestingly the prophecy of Isaiah we have already quoted gives a hope to Egypt, Assyria and Israel. Isaiah 19.23-25 speaks of a restoration of the whole region. This will follow the return of the Lord and be given to those in Egypt, Assyria and Israel who turn to the Messiah Jesus and receive Him as Saviour now. ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork and Israel my inheritance.’
When the Lord returns there will be a wonderful restoration of the whole Earth’s ecology as the waters gush forth in the desert and the wilderness will blossom and rejoice (Isaiah 35). To be ready for this wonderful time we must now repent of our sins and believe the Gospel.
Tony Pearce is an author of several books and many articles; and is part of the leadership at Bridge Lane Fellowship in North London.
Tony produces regular briefings in printed and audio form; and a web site. The publication and web site are entitled 'Light for the Last Days'.