Here, as I have promised, a summary of the presentation I made at the annual conference of IMES in Beirut, on the topic How Should the Church Respond to the Arab Uprisings: Challenges & Opportunities within the Emerging Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region
I have started by saying that I agree with the three points made by Dr Martin Accad in the introduction to the topic. He highlighted the problems of the church in the MENA region under three headings:
1. Church siding with power
2. Minority complex
3. Scare of the future
In my presentation of the Arab Spring viewed from an Eastern European perspective, I have covered the following points:
1. I have started with a story. A number of years ago I was in Beirul for a conference of Evangelicals for Middle east Understanding, where a number of Iraqi church leaders spoke enthusiastically about how good and humane is then President Saddam Hussein to the church in Iraq, which reminded me of the way church leaders in communist Romania were praising Ceausescu, the dictatorial leader of the country, for the great religious freedom we/they had . One of the four, the head of the Protestant Church in Iraq at the time, was also a general in Saddam’s army. I have heard that after the war he published in the US a book on Iraq. I am sure his message there was radically different from what I have heard. This illustrates the first problem of the church in MENA as presented by Martin.
2. Then I have suggested that to the term ‘revolution’ (which has a very leftist, secular, and often violent meaning), used by the two Arab colleagues at the table, I prefer the term evolution, which I find more compatible with the non-violent perspectives present by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. I have suggested this because of what I perceive to be the need for a Middle Eastern view of non-violent resistance, inspired by people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Gene Sharpe.
3. I have then spoke of the risk of unrealistic hopes following such sudden changes, which bring after then great disappointments. Thus, I have compared the great depression that Romanians felt already in January-February of 1990, just weeks after a bloody regime change, that finally proved to be a coup d’etat, rather than a revolution. The same exact thing had happened in Tunisia, few weeks and months after the toppling of Ben Ali. It seems that we never learn anything from history.
4. My next point was that, understandably, slaves do not have any idea about the true nature of freedom. -Freedom has an ambiguous nature, It is somewhat neutre. It can bring with it good things or bed things. It really depends how we use it. If viewed and unlimited and if not associated with responsibility, freedom may in fact bring chaos, rather than democracy.
5. I have suggested that for peoples like ours it may be useful to use the Exodus model as an inspiration of what needs to be done when freedom comes, as I have suggested in my book After Liberation, Then What? Think about Moses during the 40 years in the desert.
6. I have then linked the lack of direction in many of our countries to the chronic lack of prominent leaders. That is why there is no clear project for the future Unlike South Africa, where the restoration process after apartheid was led by such huge personalities like Mandela and Tutu.
7. If we want to have a future as Christian in MENA, we need to engage in a clear process of repentance (for siding with dictatorial regimes, if that was the case) and reconciliation with the rest of society, especially the Muslim majority. Without this the church will have no future in the Arab and Muslim world.
8 At the same time, as Christians, we have to be always prepared to follow the way of the cross. Suffering has been part of the church experience all along Christian history and the future will be no different.
9. Christians have often sought selfishly for their own freedom, sometimes at the expense of the freedom of others. The time has come for Christians to seek for freedom for all.
10. I have concluded saying that whatever the near future will bring, we have a sure hope in the Lord of history.