The Abraham Accords and Religious Freedom in the Middle East’s Gulf Region
03/26/2021 Israel (International Christian Concern) – As more Middle Eastern countries formalize relations with Israel, many human rights advocates claim that the effects of these events on religious minorities in the region are undeniable and, for the most part, positive. The signing of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and Bahrain, along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reflects the increasing seriousness with which many Sunni Arab states see the increasing threat of Iran’s hegemonic moves in the region, and the steps they are willing to take blunt Iran’s expansionist efforts. However, the normalizations have ramifications for minority religious communities within these countries.
The Jewish communities in both Bahrain and the UAE have kept very low profiles for many years, but with the signing of the Accords, these communities have been invigorated to celebrate and express their Jewish faith more openly and without fear of persecution. As Bahrain and the UAE have opened up to a more visible Jewish presence within their borders, the local Jewish communities of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have come together to announce the formation of the Association of the Gulf Jewish Communities, an organization to promote greater unity and resource sharing among the Jewish communities of the Gulf Cooperation States. Essentially, the normalization of relations with the State of Israel indicates that the governments of Bahrain and the UAE understand that by signing the Accords, they are making a public statement that they are showing no hostility or distrust for their local Jewish populations as well.
By making this public statement of religious tolerance, this increases the confidence of other religious minorities such as Christians to express themselves more fully and increases the confidence of countries such as the United States and Canada to look at Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates as beacons of liberal values in a region often hostile to religious freedoms.
These developments while positive, represent an exception rather than a reality, as many other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Iran still actively persecute religious minorities such as Christians and members of the Baha’i faith. The Abraham Accords represent a step in the right direction and offer an example to other countries, but there is still progress that needs to be made. The West has an important role to play, if it chooses to do so, in spreading awareness of the ongoing persecution of religious minorities, and by allocating more resources to fighting religious persecution and promoting freedom of religion worldwide.
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