Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 4 March 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Saudi Arabia, 4 March 2007, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

During 2006, Saudi Arabia remained an abyss in the area of religious freedom. The absolute monarchy, though itself the target of al-Qaeda attacks in recent years, continued to foster Sunni extremism directed toward the West, religious minorities and women.

Despite some recent efforts at their revision, educational materials used in Saudi schools still fan religious intolerance toward Jews, Shia Muslims and Christians. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that, in 2006, clerics authorized by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs continued to engage in hate speech. In April 2006, the government arrested a Saudi journalist for criticism of the government's strict interpretation of Islam.

Since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country's minority Shia – comprising around 10 per cent of the population – have faced restrictions on religious practice and discrimination in education, employment and representation in government. King Abdullah formally took power in August 2005 and has taken some steps to ease tension with the Shia minority by releasing political prisoners and allowing greater political participation by Shia. Nevertheless, the International Crisis Group reported in September 2005 that the sectarian war in Iraq had worsened relations between Sunnis and Shia in Saudi Arabia.

The 700,000 Ismaili Muslims in Saudi Arabia likewise have faced rampant discrimination, as the government has closed their mosques and accused them of blasphemy, apostasy and witchcraft. In November 2006, King Abdullah pardoned a group of Ismailis jailed after rioting in 2000, but the Saudi-based Human Rights First Society reported that at least two other Ismailis remained imprisoned for insulting the Prophet Mohammed. It was not clear whether this included Hadi al Mutif, an Ismaili sentenced to death in 1996 for allegedly committing that offence in 1993.

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