In the summer of 1991 our family was home on leave from Bahrain where I was serving as pastor of an international church. It was the summer of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. One night we had the privilege of getting together for dinner with three other families with decades of experience in the Arabian Gulf and Egypt. It was good to be together as our shared experience gave weight and immediacy to what was on everyone’s minds at that time – the invasion.
Kuwait wasn’t the only thing we talked about that night. Our conversation ebbed and flowed around familiar expatriate themes served up with a dash of nostalgia, a pinch of friendly controversy (old Middle East hands can be a contentious lot) and some thoughtful reflection about what the future might bring. It was then that my former mentor in Cairo put on his prophet’s robe, saying something that I have never forgotten:
What we see in the Gulf are countries that have been artificially kept under autocratic rule at least partly because of American support. We support them because they represent stability even though we claim to want democracy. This can’t last, however. These well educated, increasingly sophisticated young Arabs are not going to remain silent much longer. They will soon be demanding the same freedoms we have. Hopefully America will be on the right side when they do.
This prophesy is now coming true in Bahrain. Encouraged by the successful revolution in Egypt, this otherwise peaceful little country – our home for seven years – is experiencing the very convulsions towards freedom that my mentor saw coming twenty years ago. And now similar uprisings are taking place in other countries in the region.