DAKAR, Senegal — 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 one of the factors 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 spurred 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.
Overall, the study found a worldwide rise in religious restrictions. It measured two basic yardsticks: a “government restrictions" index, and a “social hostilities" index. Government restrictions includes moves by authorities to ban faiths and conversions, and to limit preaching. Social hostilities encompasses mob violence and “religion-related intimidation or abuse," such as harassment over attire.
The study found 15 countries 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.