US: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Fail to Respect Religious Freedom

Tillerson Says Nations Need to Stop Discriminating Against Shi'ites

An annual US State Department report on religious freedom is strongly criticizing key US allies, notably Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for their lack of religious freedom and admonished Israel to respect its non-Orthodox citizens.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared unusually willing to go after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain about the matter, saying both nations need to stop discriminating against their substantial Shi’ite minorities and embrace a greater degree of religious freedom for all citizens.

Bahrain has struggled mightily with having such a large Shi’ite minority, violently cracking down on protests demanding equal rights and equal protection under the law. In general, Bahrain has presented such unrest as Iranian plots.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority is a smaller percentage, but potentially a dangerous one because they live in the nation’s most oil rich areas. Here too, the Saudis see any sign of unrest at their status as second-class citizens as proof of Iranian influence, and are quick to execute demonstrators as “terrorists.”

While it’s not unusual for annual reports to make note of these long-standing problems, it’s somewhat more unusual for the Secretary of State to publicly discuss them. Usually, such reports are met with a few expressions of annoyance by nations included, and quickly forgotten.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.