Iran Boycotts Hajj in Saudi Arabia

On May 12, Iran announced that it will not send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year for the annual hajj ritual. The culture minister said he blamed Saudi Arabia for stonewalling talks on logistics for Iranian pilgrims. The boycott follows a stampede in Mina during the 2015 hajj that killed almost 2,500 people, including more than 460 Iranians. Tehran accused the Saudi government of mismanagement and incompetence. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani said Riyadh was failing to expeditiously identify and return bodies to their mourning families. It took some two months to identify the body of a former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon.
Streamlining coordination for the 2016 hajj has proven especially difficult because the countries have not had diplomatic relations since January. Tensions between the regional rivals hit a boiling point after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric on January 2. Sheikh Nimr al Nimr’s execution prompted protests in predominantly Shiite Iran. Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after protestors attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and Consulate in Mashhad.
In April, an Iranian delegation held four days of talks in Saudi Arabia over the hajj. But they did not resolve disputes. Culture Minister Ali Jannati said that the Saudis did not accept Iranian proposals about visas, transport, and security for the pilgrims. The Saudi attitude “was cold and inappropriate,” according to Jannati. The Saudis evidently wanted prospective Iranian pilgrims to go to other countries to fill out their visa applications. Tehran, however, offered to issue visas to Saudi visa officers to come to Iran to perform the procedure. Iran also wanted to evenly split pilgrims between Saudi and Iranian airlines.
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umra Mohammed Bintin blamed the disagreement on Iran. “Iran is the only country that refused to sign the agreement on the Hajj. It insisted on a number of unacceptable demands,” he told Saudi state TV channel Ekhbariya. 
Iran has boycotted the hajj before. In 1987, Iranian pilgrims clashed with Saudi police during the pilgrimage, resulting in a stampede. At least 400 were killed. Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran and reduced the number of Iranian pilgrim visas. So Iran boycotted the hajj from 1988 through 1990. The following are comments on the hajj by Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati and Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari.
Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati
“Conditions are not prepared for conducting Hajj; we have lost the time; we made our utmost effort but the sabotage is coming from the Saudis.”
“Their attitude was cold and inappropriate. They did not accept our proposals concerning the issuing of visas, the transport and security of the pilgrims.”
“Saudi officials say our pilgrims must travel to another country to make their visa applications.”
—May 11, 2016, according to the press
Foreign Minister Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari
“If no agreement is reached on these issues, Saudi Arabia will be responsible for shutting the way to the dispatch of Iranian pilgrims.”
“Performing the pilgrimage is contingent upon the host government’s fulfillment of its obvious [relevant] obligations.”
The Saudi government has refused to act on “its recurrent assertions that it would not let political disputes get in the way of the issue of Hajj.”
“Performing the pilgrimage is contingent upon the host government’s fulfillment of its obvious [relevant] obligations.”
“It is obvious that a non-normal status is not acceptable to Iran.”
“There is still time. We hope Saudi Arabia changes its wrong policy.”

May 10, 2016, to the press 


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