Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Suppression of Religion Rose before Arab Spring ; Restrictions on Islamism May Have Added Fuel to Revolts, Study Says

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Suppression of Religion Rose before Arab Spring ; Restrictions on Islamism May Have Added Fuel to Revolts, Study Says

Article excerpt

The suppression of Islamist movements was particularly high before revolutions spread through the Middle East and North Africa, a Pew survey says.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Government restrictions on religion around the world were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in the period before the Arab Spring uprisings, a new study has found, underscoring a factor that fueled hostilities in the region and led to the rise of political Islam after the revolts.

The study, by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that government restrictions on religion were "high or very high" in most of the Arab Spring countries in 2010 -- where, in fact, suppression of Islamist movements contributed to the uprisings and drove subsequent incursions of Islamists into political power.

Restrictions in Tunisia went from "high" in mid-2009 to "very high" a year later, the study found. The uprising there began at the end of 2011.

In Egypt, restrictions were already high and edged up further between 2009 and 2010, the year before the country exploded. And in Yemen, where there also was an uprising, restrictions increased sharply over the same period.

Over all, the study found a worldwide rise in religious restrictions. It measured two basic yardsticks: an index of government restrictions and an index of social hostilities. Government restrictions include moves by the authorities to ban faiths and conversions or to limit preaching. Social hostilities encompass mob violence and "religion-related intimidation or abuse," like harassment over attire.

The study found 15 countries or territories with very high levels of social hostilities in 2010, up from 10 in 2007, with the new additions being Egypt, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Russia and Yemen. It noted that "in Nigeria, violence between Christian and Muslim communities, including a series of deadly attacks, escalated throughout the period."

However, in Nigeria at least, the religious dimension is often superseded by, or a mask for, more complex underlying factors -- elements not noted by the broad-brush, numbers-based Pew study. …

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