Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia in the Freedom of Thought Report, by the IHEU.
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
The Sacred Mosque in Mecca can accommodate around 800 thousand worshippers on normal days but this is expected to be expanded to 4 million in the coming decades.
The Kaaba is at the center of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and is considered to be the house of God and the holiest site in Islam

Saudi Arabia is a country with virtually no freedom of religion or other human rights. All citizens are required to be Muslim and leaving the religion is punishable by death. The country is ruled by an absolute monarch who governs in alliance with a powerful theocratic elite who promote their own extreme version of Sunni Islam called Salafism.

The two holiest sites of Islam are in Saudi Arabia: the Sacred Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque, in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. One of the fundamental tenants of Islam is that every Muslim should make a pilgrimage, called the Hajj, to Mecca at least once in their life, if at all possible. Five times a day, devote Muslims around the world pray in the direction of the Sacred Mosque, which contains the Kaaba, a small building which is considered to be the house of God.

Because of their regional rivalry with Iran and desire to increase their influence, a significant amount of funding from rich Saudi individuals has flowed to extremism groups in order to promote their national and religious interests. This support, as well as other factors, has destabilised much of the Middle East and given rise to groups like Islamic State. [1]

"More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups [...] Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide"

— US secretary of state Hilary Clinton in a leaked memo [2]



Some reformers, such as Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, have called for an end to the "herd mentality" and social conformity within Middle Eastern culture, saying it causes the region to stagnate.[3]


Blasphemy and apostasy are criminalised in the country and accusations are often used to silence opponents of the government. Saudi Arabia enacted laws that equate atheism with terrorism. [4] Notable cases of oppression include:

  • Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet sentenced to death in 2016 for allegedly promoting atheism. [5]
  • Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a large fine for alleged apostasy. He was active in promoting freedom of speech via blogs.

"The government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and cracked down on dissent, arresting and imprisoning critics, including human rights defenders. Many received unfair trials before courts that failed to respect due process, including a special anti-terrorism court that handed down death sentences. New legislation effectively equated criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with terrorism."

— Amnesty International[6]

Oppression of other religions and denominations

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
Only Muslims are allowed to visit Mecca and Medina. Road signs direct non-Muslim traffic to a bypass road around Mecca which enables them to drive around at a safe distance.

Saudi Arabia predominantly follows Sunni Islam. Other religions and Islamic sects face strong discrimination. In 2015, a prominent Shi’a cleric was executed for alleged terrorism, which increased sectarian tension considerably around the Middle East. [7]

Only Muslims are allowed to visit Mecca and Medina. A few non-Muslims have pretended to convert to Islam and gone on pilgrimage to experience it as an outsider. [8]

Non-Muslim places of worship and promoting other religions, or even other interpretations of Islam, are banned.

Oppression of women

Women are tightly controlled in the country, where they must be accompanied in public by a guardian, they are banned from driving and are required to wear religiously mandated clothing. Those that do not comply are punished. [9]

Sharia law

Saudi Arabia follows their interpretation of Sharia law, which includes beheading and stoning for relatively minor offences, including drug related crime and adultery. [10] [11] Reports also describe bodies being crucified after death to publicly display the body.

Women are not allowed go anywhere without a chaperone (a male guardian) and are forbidden from driving. However, women are allowed to vote and stand for office. [12]

Pork and alcohol are banned.

The Hajj

The Hajj is pilgrimage to Mecca and at a specific time in the Muslim yearly calendar which lasts 5 days (9th to the 13th of Dhu Al-Hijjah). Due to the significant growth of Islam around the world, it attracts millions of pilgrims every year. Because of overcrowding and poor organization, there are sometimes fatal crushes and accidents. In 2015, over 700 pilgrims were crushed in a stampede (allegedly from road closures) and a separate collapse of a crane killed more than 100. [13] Some Islamic organizations have called for better organisation or the responsibility of operating the Hajj to be transferred an independent body.


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