The Arab Spring revolutions could enable sectarian and religious violence in countries where civil society has collapsed, the State Department said in its annual report on religious freedom.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embraced the spirit of self-determination driving popular protests, but warned that minority groups become vulnerable in the power vacuum following an autocrat's fall.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the transitions to democracy have inspired the world but they have also exposed ethic and religious minorities to new dangers, Clinton told reporters as she unveiled the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report. People have been killed by their own neighbors because of their ethnicity or faith. In other places we have seen governments stand by while sectarian violence inflamed by religious animosities tears communities apart.

Some examples have already surfaced in countries that have deposed longtime rulers. Christians in Egypt have come under repeated attack, while some Libyans have directed their fury at dark-skinned migrants whom they associate with mercenaries employed by Moammar Gaddafi.

The report also underscored abuses of religious freedom in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, saying that all religious minorities -- particularly Bahais, Sufis, Christians and Jews -- were targets in Iran.