Friday, May 20, 2016


                                                          King Salman

The unfortunate crowd crush of Hajj 2015 in Minaa exposed Iran’s ardent desire of having control over the Haramayn by whatever means. Tehran failed lamentably in its attempt to depict Saudi authorities as incompetent and incapable of ensuring pilgrims’ safety, and ‘that Hajj affairs should be handed over to Islamic states’. Playing politics with the crush did not stop with the evacuation of bodies of Iranian pilgrims from the holy city of Makkah where they died for a highly politicised funeral procession on the streets of Tehran, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani delivered a scathing speech on the sad incident against the Saudi Arabian Government to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In his response to President Rouhani, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir, who was also at the UN, said, ‘I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty.’

No one is even talking about the unIslamic movement of bodies across countries, which is a further tragedy upon the one which befell the dead. It was a callous use of dead bodies to garner emotional support for a sinister cause. How do you explain a public procession and wailing in tow of these departed souls by a people who claim to belong to the same faith with Muhammad (PBUH) who forbade such wailing and public mourning? Only in Iran! These same people cut themselves up with various sharp objects ranging from razor blades to swords every year in mourning of a man who died about 1400 years ago. Ironically, Hussein (RA) for whom they claim to sustain these foolish wounds in solidarity, does not have anything to do with them and their ideology.

The crush debacle was followed by  an ‘open diplomatic crisis’ occasioned by Saudi Arabia’s execution of dozens of ‘mostly Sunni militants linked to Al Qaeda, but including Nimr Al Nimr, a Shiite leader from the east of the country.’ Like other Sunni militants, Nimr was arrested and sentenced to death on terrorism charges. Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader condemned Al Nimr’s execution saying that Saudi Arabia would face ‘the divine hand of revenge’ for his death’. I do not know what to call this other than interference in Saudi’s domestic affairs; just as we saw Iran’s overzealousness in the crisis between Islamic Movement of Nigeria and Chief of Army Staff’s convey, or in many other conflicts especially in the Gulf region where Shiites are involved. The Iranian president thought it was his place to call the Nigerian president to ask about the killing of Nigerians in Nigeria because they hang a photo of his own spiritual leader in their buildings and pledge allegiance to Iran instead of Nigeria.

The executions of both Sunni and Shi’ah terrorists were carried out on the same day to underscore the fact that terrorism has neither sect nor religion.  Al Nimr was executed together with, for example, Faris Al Shuwail, a religious leader for Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, among other executed Sunni men. Nevertheless, following these executions Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions in both Tehran and Mashhad were stormed and set ablaze by an angry mob of protesters. Riyadh reacted on January 3, 2016 by cutting diplomatic relations with Tehran and many countries including United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Sudan severed ties with Iran. 

Also, as part of Saudi Arabia’s response to the attack on its embassy at Tehran and consulate at Mashhad by Iranian protesters, trade and flights were halted between both nations. The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) ‘banned Iran’s Mahan Air from flying through its air space or land at its airports due to violations of safety rules’.

Then, came the issue of Hajj 2016. Hardly will you find a ministry anywhere in the world as busy as the Saudi’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry which has to organise and conduct meetings with various Hajj delegations from about 100 countries annually. Each country’s Hajj representatives meet the Saudi Hajj officials separately, though Hajj has a unified form of observance, there are peculiarities among the countries that participate in the ritual.  The year 2016 is no different. Dates were slated and invitations to the meetings were sent to Hajj missions, commissions or ministries as the case may be.

Despite the severance of diplomatic ties with Tehran, and in line with the Kingdom’s policy of welcoming ‘all pilgrims from all over the world and from all nationalities and sectarian backgrounds, the Saudi Hajj authorities extended invitation to the Iranian Hajj Organisation to come for a meeting on arrangements for Hajj 2016. Even with the closure of the Saudi mission in Iran, arrangements were made for entry visas for the Iranian Hajj Organisation’s delegates through the Saudi Arabian embassy in UAE.

The Iranian delegation held a series of meetings with Saudi Hajj authorities for four days in April this year aimed at facilitating Iran’s participation in Hajj  coming up in September. The head of the Iranian Hajj Organisation, Mr Ohadi said four days of negotiations had achieved progress on security issues and travel to the Kingdom. “The Saudis offered good solutions on security," introducing electronic tracking bracelets for all Haj participants, Mr Ohadi said.

Saudi Arabia has made a number of concessions including allowing Iranian aircrafts to land during the Hajj in spite of the GACA ban, and, since both its embassy and consulate have been torched and diplomatic ties severed, visas for Iranian pilgrims could be obtained through the Saudi embassy in Dubai. However, ‘Tehran wants visas to be issued inside Iran.’  Therefore, the Iranian delegation ‘refused to sign the agreement to finalise preparations for this year’s Hajj…..insisting on their demands’. This is another example of arrant obstinacy even when your opponent is holding all the aces.

Iran’s declaration that it will not send pilgrims to this year’s Hajj was therefore a unilateral decision contrived long before the arriving of its Hajj delegation for the deadlocked meeting in Saudi Arabia.  Tehran is solely responsible for preventing its citizens from coming to Hajj as Riyadh does not debar any Muslim regardless of their nationality or sectarian leanings from observing their rites as guests of Allah in His inviolable places of worship! Serving the pilgrims is a responsibility and an honour to the Kingdom and its leadership! After burning a country’s consulate and embassy within your country, you must be under some sort of delusion to insist that country should issue you visas in your country. The Saudi government values the lives of their citizens and cannot guarantee their safety in a country, which sanctions attacks on another country’s embassy for executing a sentenced criminal.

What Iran could not achieve through stirring up the ire of Muslim world by attributing incompetence and incapability to Saudi Arabia’s handling of the pilgrimage after the Minaa crush of Hajj 2015, it is trying to resuscitate by the refusal of its Hajj delegates from ratifying the outcome of their four-day meeting with Saudi Hajj authorities. Tehran is ceaselessly looking for an opportunity to hamper the Kingdom through outright blackmail or presenting a facade impregnated with political manipulation of Hajj and Umrah matters.

Every country participating in the Hajj, as stated above, must attend this annual meeting with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officials and sign the agreements reached in preparation for the year’s Hajj.  If a country decides to stay away from the pilgrimage in protest of, for example, the execution of a terrorist, as is the case of Iran, such country should say so, rather than using a pillar of this religion for political blackmail.

In a Cabinet Meeting chaired by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman at the As-Salam Palace on Monday, May 16th, 2016 it was decided that ‘the decision of preventing Iranian citizens from coming to Haj was due to Iranian officials who will be responsible in front of Allah Almighty and the whole world’.

I am sure their followers will react, rather than respond to this piece. I will be insulted and called unprintable names and a Saudi government stooge. It will not come as a surprise neither will it change the facts of what I have written. What I will be surprised to get is a rational, logical, sentiments-free response, which will pick holes in my piece with facts and decorum. Is anyone up for that, please?