Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Iranians miss the hajj

Iranian pilgrims will not be making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca this year as a result of their country’s differences with Saudi Arabia, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Iran making demands and holding protests is not acceptable,” Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, said in a press conference in Riyadh with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers on Sunday. He was referring to the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia over whether or not Iranian pilgrims will take part in this year’s hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

An Iranian delegation that went to Saudi Arabia to finalise arrangements for the hajj with their Saudi counterparts returned to Tehran on Saturday. “Sending pilgrims to the hajj this year is not possible,” Minister of Culture Ali Jannati told reporters on his arrival in the Iranian capital.

He said the Saudi government is not cooperating with Iran to fulfil requests on the services needed during the hajj. However, the Saudi authorities have also said that the Iranians have not been willing to sign a hajj agreement, which is mandatory for all countries participating in the hajj.

On Sunday, Al-Jubeir said the Iranians have deprived their own people of the hajj this year by demanding Saudi permission for an anti-US demonstration. The demonstration is a legacy of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who wanted to draw the Muslim world’s attention to political events while pilgrims were attending the hajj and show solidarity against the US and Israel.

In one of the most tragic events that has ever happened at the hajj, more than 400 people were killed, including 275 Iranians, 85 Saudis and 45 other nationals, at an anti-US and Israel rally during the hajj in Mecca on 31 July 1987. Iran and Saudi Arabia then cut ties, depriving Iranian pilgrims of the hajj for three years, until 1990 when diplomatic relations were restored.

With that experience behind it, Saudi Arabia has refused to grant permission to any countries attending the hajj that are planning political activities, and has requested that all countries sign a hajj agreement designed to prevent any such events happening in the future.

Last year, at least 717 people were killed in a stampede at the hajj, some 400 of them Iranian pilgrims. Following this tragic event, a Shia Saudi cleric, Nimr Al-Nimr, was executed in Saudi Arabia, causing angry Iranian mobs to attack Saudi political missions in Iran.

Now the Saudis fear that the Iranians could make this year’s hajj violent and chaotic as a way of taking revenge for the execution, and they have been pressing the Iranians to agree to manage the hajj only on their terms.

As a result of the stand-off, it now seems that Iranian pilgrims will miss this year’s hajj, though some observers believe they are better off not making it if there is a chance of another confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia during the event.

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not friendly these days, though each has a common interest in supporting the international oil market. Saudi Arabia’s oil policy has successfully routed US shale-oil producers, also benefitting Iran, with the Saudi policy to oversupply decreasing oil prices from $100 a barrel to as low as $20 a barrel in just two years.

Many oil-producing countries have suffered as a result of the low oil prices, but not Iran and Saudi Arabia. For Iran, the international sanctions against it limited the country’s oil production, regardless of the market price.

Today, with sanctions lifted on Iran’s oil industry, the country is free to reach its former output level. With US producers having left the market as a result of Saudi policies, Iran can enjoy the higher prices that reached $50 a barrel last Friday, thanks to Saudi Arabia.

An OPEC ministerial meeting is scheduled to be held in Vienna on 2 June, even though last month at a meeting in Doha the organisation failed to complete an accord with Russia and other non-members on freezing oil-supply levels.

Saudi Arabia has also insisted that its political adversary, Iran, which has refused to participate in the Doha gathering, needs to join before it will agree to any accord.

With the new Saudi oil minister, Khalid Al-Falih, joining the meeting in Vienna for the first time, there has been speculation of improved cooperation between OPEC members as Iran’s oil minister is also supposed to attend.

Iranians may be missing out on the hajj this year, but their country will not be lacking for cash as a result of higher international oil prices thanks to Saudi Arabia.


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