The Iran-Saudi pilgrimage dispute has historical precedent

I’m a little the worse for wear today, so posting may be light. Luckily, this makes for a timely rerun, what with Iran’s decision last week to ban (or re-ban) Iranians from making pilgrimages to Mecca. This is getting a lot of attention, much more than Iran’s ban on performing Umrah got last April, no doubt because the Saudi-Iran feud in general is getting extra attention at the moment. Anyway, I wrote this in April because of the Umrah ban, to provide a little historical context, and it applies equally well today.

and that's the way it was

Iran has barred its citizens from traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah, or lesser pilgrimage to Mecca, which is the recommended-but-not-obligatory pilgrimage that can be performed any time (as opposed to the obligatory Hajj, which has to be performed during the annual Hajj). Ostensibly, Iranian authorities are reacting to a report that two Iranian teens were sexually assaulted by Saudi security at the Jeddah airport after flying in with their family. It’s a horrible report (though as Jim White notes, the severity of the alleged assault has been downgraded several times by Iranian authorities, from “rape” to “harassment” to “attempted assault”), but it’s the context that really matters here; the Saudis are intervening militarily in Yemen against the Houthis, whom they allege to be Iranian proxies (the actual evidence for that claim is pretty murky though there is some smoke there), and tensions are obviously very…

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