College of Law Faculty Scholarship


Springtime for Freedom of Religion or Belief: Will Newly Democratic Arab States Guarantee International Human Rights Norms or Perpetuate Their Violation?

Source Publication (e.g., journal title)

State Responses to Religious Minorities

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2013


The Arab Spring has generated unprecedented and seismic political and social upheaval across the Arab world. The reasons for the outbreak of widespread and vociferous public protest are myriad, but generally understood as including long-simmering resentment of government corruption and repression, underwhelming economic development, chronic unemployment and poor respect for human rights, including the treatment of individuals and groups affiliated with political manifestations of Islam. Despite the initial drama surrounding the street rallies, two years on, the pace of change has grown fitful and uncertain. The purpose of this chapter is to consider one narrow aspect of the Arab Spring. Namely, what does this historic moment augur for securing the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief? Further to this question, how — if at all — have the emerging post-Arab Spring governments differentiated themselves from their predecessors on issues including non-discrimination, equality, freedom of expression and the rights of religious minorities — including Muslims dissenting from state-sanctioned Islam, non-Muslims, new religious movements (NRMs), and nonbelievers? And finally, what role, if any, should the larger international community play in advocating or facilitating the adoption of new constitutional and legislative safeguards designed to uphold international human rights norms? In the end, this chapter argues that the revolutions hold the promise of correcting years of discriminatory and unequal treatment. However, such an outcome remains contingent upon overcoming a dangerous historical paradox that often finds formerly persecuted groups morphing into the role of persecutor. The direction emerging regimes tip will be determined by a combination of internal and external factors.