Cairo, Egypt The end is near.
From Egypt to the United States, books about Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ are once again big sellers. The war in Iraq, a region central to both Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, has sparked a revived interest in predictions of the end and led to an usual convergence of the apocalyptic visions that percolate on the edges of both American and Middle Eastern societies.
Web sites discuss end-of-time signs in the Bible and in the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. Christian preachers and Muslim prayer leaders link today's headlines about war in the Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Abraham to centuries-old descriptions of humanity's final hours.
"The U.S.-led war on Iraq is an introduction to the battle of Armageddon," Yusef Faqr, an Egyptian attorney, recently told guests in his home. "It is very, very near."
In the United States, fundamentalists thumb through the Book of Revelation, which twice mentions the Euphrates River that runs through Iraq. According to Revelation, before Armageddon begins, "the four angels that are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be loosened and the river will be dried up so "that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared" to march to battle in Israel.
In Cairo, believers also are watching water levels in Iraq. According to Amin Mohamed Gamal El-Din, author of "Armageddon: Last Declaration of the Islamic Nation," the damming of the Euphrates was prophesied by Muhammad as a sign that Judgment Day, known in Islam as "The Hour," is nigh.
The river continues to flow, but Gamal El-Din says other prophetic signs have already come to pass, including an economic siege on Iraq (United Nations sanctions), a siege on Palestine (the Israeli occupation) and the appearance of people with black flags (the Taliban). "I expect a severe war to start in the near future," Gamal El-Din said. "Maybe in weeks, maybe in months, not in years."
Muslims and Christians share strikingly similar views of the final days. Both believe that a demonic leader -- Dajal to Muslims and the Antichrist to Christians -- will take over much of the world, and that Jesus Christ will return and defeat him prior to the hour of final judgment.
It's hard to know how many doomsday believers there are. In the United States, opinion polls and book sales indicate the ideas are widespread. Apocalyptic authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have sold 55 million copies of their "Left Behind" series of fictional novels and children's books. "Armageddon," the 11th book in the adult series, debuted on various best-seller lists when it was released on April 8, the day before the fall of Baghdad.