Global restrictions on religion increased following the Arab Spring

When the Arab Spring erupted in parts of the Middle East and North Africa in 2010, many people believed the widespread protests would lead to greater political, social and religious freedom. But a recent Pew Research Center report found that, at least for religious freedom, that has not been the case.

Prior to the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa had the highest level of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in the world. And the Pew Research study, which scored 198 countries and territories on a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index, found that government restrictions on religion in the area remained high throughout 2011, while social hostilities involving religion increased. For example, the number of countries in the Middle East-North Africa that were home to sectarian or communal violence doubled from five in 2010 to 10 in 2011. The report cites social hostilities – such as violence resulting from religious tensions in places like Egypt, China and Nigeria – as a primary cause of the increase in overall religious restrictions.

Worldwide, the percentage of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 37% to 40% in 2011, marking a five-year high. More than 5.1 billion people were living in countries with these high levels of religious restrictions. That is equal to 74% of the world’s population – a number explained by the fact that some of the world’s most restrictive countries are also among its most populous.