State Department Report: Arab Spring Led To Rise In Religious Intolerance

Reposted by arrangement with Think Progress

The “Arab Spring” has overturned three Arab dictators and offered the possibility of democratic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa at a pace far exceeding what many observers had predicted before the beginning of demonstrations and protests in December 2010. But the rapid transitions in the region have given way to frequent mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities according to the State Departments annual “International Religious Freedom Report.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the report’s launch yesterday, said:

In the Middle East and North Africa, the transitions to democracy have inspired the world, but they have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers. People have been killed by their own neighbors because of their ethnicity or their faith. In other places, we’ve seen governments stand by while sectarian violence, inflamed by religious animosities, tears communities apart. Now, the people of the region have taken exciting first steps toward democracy—but if they hope to consolidate their gains, they cannot trade one form of repression for another.

In February, Coptic Christians and Muslims offered a united front in Tahrir square, demanding that Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak step down. But the show of unity has been short-lived, according to the report, which highlighted attacks against Copts, Egypt’s Christian minority, and condemned the Egyptian government’s failure to prosecute crimes against Copts or redress laws that discriminate against Christians.

Clinton also noted mistreatment in Iraq, where she said the “hateful, senseless” Monday attack on Shiite pilgrims had “no aim other than to undermine the fabric of a peaceful society,” and Libya, where there have been attacks on sub-Saharan African and Egyptian migrants.

While Middle East and North African countries received special attention due to the recent pro-democracy movements and the steps towards more inclusive governance in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the “countries of particular concern” in the State Department’s report are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

All of the countries “of particular concern” have been sanctioned by the U.S. except Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.