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06/05/2019 Saudi Arabia (International Christian Concern) –  During the 14th summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia led the way in drafting a declaration which invited all Islamic countries to reject terrorism and condemn forms of intolerance based on religion. The declaration was ratified by 139 Muslim-majority countries.

The Mecca Declaration covers a number of topics besides religious freedom. From this perspective, the declaration has both positive and negative points. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia, as home to the most holy sites in Islam, led the way in drafting this declaration. It is part of a growing trend by Saudi Arabia to take public steps to show leadership in affirming religious freedom.

However, it is important to also note that Saudi Arabia has taken no concrete steps to affect positive change for religious minorities within its own country.  The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom designates Saudi Arabia as a Tier One Country of Particular Concern. Citizens are born Muslim, and anyone who leaves is considered an apostate and risks a death sentence. Non-Muslim expats are subject to strict surveillance, harassment, and arrest.

Saudi Arabia is putting considerable effort into advertising religious freedom in their country as part of its Saudi Vision 2030, which is an economic platform that seeks to make the country more approachable for western countries.  If Saudi Arabia is truly interested in religious freedom, then it must take legal steps that remove barriers to the practice of faith for non-Muslim religions.

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