Daily Dispatches
Coptic Christians march in Cairo in May.
Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil
Coptic Christians march in Cairo in May.

Pew survey: Religious freedom an Arab mirage


In the summer of 2011, G-8 governments—excited about the Arab Spring uprisings—pledged $40 billion to “newly democratic” nations in North Africa and the Middle East.

President Barack Obama announced that the United States would also help. He made a plan to forgive $1 billion in loans to Egypt and offer the country another $1 billion in direct aid. He also directed Congress to work on a $2 billion private investment program for the entire region.

Obama compared the Arab fruit vendor who ignited the Arab Spring protests to Rosa Parks. He showed enthusiasm for the United States’ role in the new “stability of nations” and in “the self-determination of individuals.”

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Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States needed to pay attention specifically to religious minorities. Obama agreed and called for change: “Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”

But in the area of religious freedom, the Arab Spring has not brought the changes Western governments celebrated. The Egyptian people currently face more government restrictions on religion than any other nation, according to a just-released report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The report found Arab countries are becoming increasingly oppressive to religious minorities, while government restrictions on religion in Middle East and North African countries have grown. Instances of social hostilities involving religion have jumped even faster than government restrictions, and are more than double anywhere else in the world.

While Egyptians saw more government control than any other country, Pakistanis faced the most social hostility—including mob violence, terrorism, and intimidation—toward religious minorities.

The Coptic Christians, especially in Egypt, are one of the most oppressed religious minorities. Overall, Christians are the most oppressed group.

Pew also found Muslims face much religious oppression, thanks to large populations of Muslims living in authoritarian countries, where their own governments and other Muslim factions oppress them. Jews are the next most oppressed, notable because they comprise less than 1 percent of the world’s population, compared to Christians and Muslims, which make up more than half. The report also noted that Jews face harassment in 90 countries, 15 more than any other religious group.

In a Princeton University speech, noted Catholic theologian and scholar Michael Novak predicted that by 2020 “rough and painful human experience” would lead Islamic nations to cry “for democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and the dignity of every Muslim man, woman, and child.”

Right now, they are headed in the wrong direction.


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