World View: As Hajj Approaches, Iran and Qatar Remain in Dispute with Saudi Arabia


This morning’s key headlines from

  • UAE reacts furiously to Qatar’s restoring diplomatic relations with Iran
  • As Hajj approaches, Iran and Qatar remain in dispute with Saudi Arabia

UAE reacts furiously to Qatar’s restoring diplomatic relations with Iran

Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca two days ago, ahead of the Hajj (Reuters)
Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca two days ago, ahead of the Hajj (Reuters)

Many had been hoping that the split between Qatar and other Arab countries would finally come to an end, but instead the split appears to be getting worse.

The foreign minister of United Arab Emirates (UAE) – one of the countries, along with Bahrain and Egypt, that followed Saudi Arabia’s lead in implementing a sea, air and land blockade on Qatar – directed vitriolic comments at Qatar after the latter restored diplomatic relations with Iran, and returned its ambassador to Tehran on Friday.

In a series of angry tweets, Anwar bin Mohammad Gargash said:

[Qatar’s] sovereign decision should not be shy or confused, but its arrogance and adolescent behavior makes it so. Its justification is not convincing.

[Qatar’s] management of the crisis is characterized by confusion and mismanagement … It lacks the strategic dimension and the interests of Qatar and its people.

Qatar’s crisis was deepened through (Doha’s) crisis management of burning bridges, squandering of sovereignty and undermined what remained of the mediator’s chances. The wisdom we wished for is completely absent.

On June 5, four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt – imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar. The reasons given were Qatar’s support for Iran; Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the four countries consider to be a terrorist group; and Qatar’s aggressive use of al-Jazeera to broadcast incitement to overthrow their governments.

The four countries listed 13 specific demands that would be necessary to resolve the crisis. The demands included: sever most ties with Iran; sever all ties to the Muslim Brotherhood; shut down al-Jazeera; terminate Turkey’s military presence in Qatar; pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. Since then, the demands have been reduced to six broad principles, but the sense is the same.

In past decades, Mideast countries were usually able to remain reasonably friendly with each other, or at least were able to tolerate each other, but this all changed with the “Arab Spring” that began in 2011. Since then, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been in a proxy war in Yemen, and Iran’s Shia/Alawite client Bashar al-Assad has been massacring Sunni women and children with barrel bombs and Sarin gas.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have grown increasingly hostile. Relations between the two countries became explosive early in 2016 when Saudi Arabia executed 47 alleged terrorists: 46 Sunnis and one Shia, Mohammad Baqir Nimr al-Nimr. Iran and Shias were infuriated because the execution implied that Shia terrorism is equivalent to Sunni terrorism. Iranian mobs firebombed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and attacked the consulate in Meshaad. Saudi Arabia and Iran broke diplomatic relations as a result. Other Saudi allies followed suit, including Qatar.

So now, after 20 months, Qatar is restoring diplomatic relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia, of course, is not doing the same. So the vitriolic feelings of the Saudis directed at Iran are now being directed at Qatar. The end is nowhere in sight. Gulf News (Dubai) and Press Tv (Tehran) and Al Jazeera (Doha) and The National (Abu Dhabi)

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As Hajj approaches, Iran and Qatar remain in dispute with Saudi Arabia

The Hajj takes place each year in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. It is Islam’s holiest event, commemorating rituals that date back to the prophet Abraham, and then codified by the prophet Mohamed in the Quran. Each Muslim is required to make a pilgrimage to the Hajj at least once in his lifetime. In 2015, about two million Muslims from 180 countries around the world arrived in Saudi Arabia for their once in a lifetime Hajj pilgrimage. This year, the dates of the Hajj are August 30 to September 4.

Among all the many bitter disagreements between Iran and Saudi Arabia is where to place the blame for the disaster that occurred in the 2015 Hajj. In 2015, one of the roads became so crowded with people that there was a stampede that killed hundreds of people who were trampled to death, including 464 Iranians. Although Saudi officials blamed “inevitable fate and destiny” for the disaster, Iranian officials blamed the disaster on the incompetence of Saudi officials, and even criminal acts by them.

Contentious talks between Iran and Saudi failed to create an agreement over security guarantees for the 2016 Hajj, and so Iran banned its citizens from attending last year’s Hajj.

However, the countries agreed in March of this year that Iranians would be able to attend the Hajj this time. Some 90,000 Iranians, including many that have already arrived, are expected to attend the Hajj this year. They are traveling by a variety of means, including flying on an Iranian airline.

However, only about 400 Qataris will be attending the Hajj this year, unless something changes in the next three days. The problem is that, unlike Iran’s airline, Qatar’s airline is forbidden by the Saudi-imposed blockade from flying into Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has offered to fly the Qatari pilgrims to Mecca at Saudi’s expense, but a miffed Qatar has apparently taken the view that if Qatar cannot fly them into Mecca, then Saudi Arabia cannot fly them into Mecca.

According to Qatar’s foreign minister Ahmed bin Saeed al-Rumaihi:

It is usual and customary for pilgrims to be transported from any country by means of national air, land and sea transportation in that country.

Pilgrims from Qatar don’t need financial assistance from the Saudi side for the Hajj. Restrictions on transportation only with Saudi airlines is unprecedented and illogical.

As for the 400 Qatari pilgrims that will be attending, they traveled overland and were permitted to cross the border from Qatar into Saudi Arabia. Reuters and AFP and Azer News (Azerbaijan)

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Hajj, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Anwar bin Mohammad Gargash, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Mohammad Baqir Nimr al-Nimr, Ahmed bin Saeed al-Rumaihi
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