Saudi Arabia, Egypt among restrictive on religion: study

Wed Dec 16, 2009 5:09pm EST
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By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among 10 mostly Muslim nations whose governments impose the most curbs on religion, according to a report on Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Afghanistan's government also ranked poorly, highlighting a potentially sensitive diplomatic flashpoint as President Barack Obama sends more U.S. troops to the Central Asian country to quell a growing insurgency.

The Pew report says nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people who live in countries that have severe restrictions on religion.

The report ranked countries by two measures: government restrictions on religion and restrictions from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups. Saudi Arabia was the only country to rank "very high" in both measures.

The first index ranked 10 mostly Muslim countries as "very high". It also included China and mostly Buddhist Myanmar.

No. 1 oil exporter and U.S. Middle East ally Saudi Arabia was ranked the most restrictive, followed by U.S. adversary Iran. Pew noted both impose limits on minority faiths and "enforce strict interpretations of Islamic law."

Egypt was also in the "very high" list and several of the countries, including Saudi Arabia, are routinely cited in the U.S. State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report under "restrictions, abuses and concerns."

The report said Afghanistan's constitution appeared to protect its citizens' right to choose their faith "but qualifies that measure of protection by stipulating that 'no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam'".   Continued...

<p>Cambodian buddhist monks pray in a Pagoda at the beginning of lent, a three month buddhist retreat, in Kandal province 20 km (12.5 miles) southeast of the capital Phnom Penh July 8, 2003. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea CS/TW</p>