Iranian-Saudi Proxy Conflict Manipulates Religious Freedom

02/20/2021 Yemen (International Christian Concern) – According to two Saudi-influenced newspapers, Yemen’s Houthi militia has begun threatening Christians with extended detainment. They were threatened with a fate similar to Musheer Khulaidi, a priest who has been held for four years with intermittent torture. The articles were published immediately after the United States removed the Houthi rebels’ terrorist organization designation.

Yemen is one of the many locations for proxy conflicts between two of the Middle East’s major players at odds with each other, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis are backed by Iran in a conflict that has been made worse since the hopeful transition of power following the Arab Spring.

This proxy conflict has little to do with religious freedom, yet the recent announcement that threatens any remaining Christians or Jews, attempts to place the Houthis as exclusively religiously motivated when they are actually more political in nature. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are notable religious freedom offenders, ranking 9th and 14th respectively on Open Door’s 2021 World Watch List. Therefore, it is unlikely that either will deeply pursue religious freedom for Yemen’s Christians.

The majority of Yemen’s Christians are Muslim Background Believers who are caught in the middle of the ongoing conflict. They do continue to suffer as a result, perhaps more so due to the fact that they find no allies advocating for them in Yemen. In this case, the recent announcement attempts to utilize and manipulate religious freedom as a justification for war and broader geopolitics. It is increasingly becoming common to see this rhetoric be brought up in hypocritical manners that prove religious freedom is not being truly sought after. Governments cannot use legitimate cases of persecution by their enemies, such as Musheer Khulaidi’s case, as a shield to protect against recognition of other, more widespread cases of religious persecution that they themselves are encouraging.