EDITOR'S NOTE: It's been more than a year since the early, heady days of what some have called the "Arab Spring" protest movements led primarily by Arab young people yearning for greater personal and political freedoms. In the months since, governments and dictators have fallen or fled in multiple countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen). In other places, regimes are struggling through change -- or hanging on through violent suppression of revolt (Syria, Bahrain).
See an overview story in Baptist Press today, “Whatever happened to the ‘Arab Spring’?” Meanwhile, however, what's happening behind the scenes? How is God working in the lives of young Arabs who will lead the next generation? The following stories take a glimpse into the lives of six men and women coping with radical change.
TUNISIA (BP) -- Abdel* says what he thinks and backs it up even when it gets him into trouble.
Once a hard drinker, soldier and martial artist, Abdel found trouble on a regular basis in Tunisia, birthplace of the "Arab Spring." He still does from time to time. The difference: When he gets in trouble nowadays, it's usually for telling people about Jesus, not for picking fights.
"I'm not smart like these people who can play with words," he says. "If you are wrong I say you are wrong. If you're right, OK."
The "old Abdel" surfaces occasionally, the wiry 27-year-old admits with a sheepish grin. Like the time he was caught in one of the biggest demonstrations of last year's "Jasmine Revolution," which toppled the long-ruling dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. That revolution, sparked by a young Tunisian who set himself on fire to protest a long string of humiliations at the hands of authorities, launched a social and political tidal wave that soon would sweep much of the Arab world.
Abdel was heading home after work one day during the height of the unrest and found himself amid thousands of protestors and police and clouds of teargas in Tunis, the North African nation's capital.
"I just wanted to go home," he insists. "So I asked the policeman who was guarding the Metro station, 'Please, can I use the Metro? It's the last train.' He said some bad words about my family and told me to get out. To me it was a question of honor. Kill me, that's OK, but don't say something bad about my mom, my dad, my family. So I put him on the ground."
Big mistake. Seven more policemen appeared and Abdel fell into a fetal position, expecting a beating he might not survive.
"I know karate, but I'm not Jackie Chan," he says. "I couldn't do anything against seven cops with weapons. So I just started to pray: 'God, I'm stuck, I'm cornered, nobody can help me except You. Help me, or I will be seeing You soon!'" Read More