The Arab League’s parliament declared on Wednesday that the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, “should not be politicized and exploited to target Saudi Arabia,” according to a report from the Saudi Gazette transcribed by al-Arabiya.
The parliamentary statement said, “the sanctity of the Two Holy Mosques and holy sites must be maintained,” and the hajj “should only be meant for rituals and worshipping,” according to the report.
This is juxtaposed by the Saudi Gazette with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir complaining that Iran “demanded the right to organize demonstrations and to have privileges that would cause chaos during hajj” during a press conference from Jeddah and that Iran’s demands were “unacceptable.”
Jubeir said Iran has been looking for excuses to keep its citizens away from the pilgrimage to the holy cities in Saudi Arabia, as part of its ongoing feud with the Kingdom. “They are now answerable to Allah,” he declared.
On Thursday, Iran declared that it would not facilitate in sending its citizens to the hajj this year because Saudi Arabia is “allegedly failing to provide adequate security,” as the Associated Press reported.
The AP notes that Iran has something of a point about security, given that 2,426 people were killed during stampedes at last year’s exceptionally deadly pilgrimage, 464 of them Iranians. Iran says that Riyadh tried to restrict the number of medical clinics it could establish for its pilgrims, further jeopardizing their safety.
The Saudis counter, as Jubeir charged from Jeddah, that Iran wants to conduct political demonstrations during the hajj, including protests against the Western world. They are also sensitive to the implied insult that “the House of Saud are poor guardians of the most sacred places of the Muslim ummah, or nation – the foundational legitimacy of Saudi Arabia’s monarchy,” as the Indian Express put it.
While the Express advises the Indian government to steer clear of the feud, it does point out that Iranian pilgrims have been known to stage political demonstrations at sacred sites in the past, “resulting in violent clashes.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — a “reasonable moderate,” according to the Obama administration — dragged Israel into the hajj dispute, slamming the Saudis by saying “the childish bid by those claiming to be the custodians of the two holy mosques in blocking the path of Allah and hajj as well as spreading instability in the region is meeting the interests of the Zionist regime.”