I’d been following this story about the contentious Saudi-Iran Hajj negotiations but neglected to post anything about the climax, so my apologies. After Iran walked away from the talks on Friday and giving the Saudis until Sunday to make additional concessions, Iranian state TV reported on Sunday that Tehran has officially banned its would-be pilgrims from attending this year’s Hajj:
In a sign of further tension between regional rivals, Iran will not allow its citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in September, Iran’s state television reported on Sunday.
The decision, which means that tens of thousands of Iranians cannot make their spiritual journey to the main pilgrimage site of Islam, came after several failed rounds of talks between officials of both countries and on the heels of accusations that Saudi Arabia has started a cyberwar against Iran.
Iran’s culture minister, Ali Jannati, told state television that “no pilgrims would be sent to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, because of obstacles created by Saudi officials.”
In a statement, Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage organization condemned Saudi Arabia for what it said was a lack of cooperation. “Too much time has been lost, and it is now too late to organize the pilgrimage,” the organization said, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah accused a visiting Iranian delegation of refusing to sign an agreement resolving issues. “They will be responsible in front of Allah Almighty and its people for the inability of the Iranian citizens to perform hajj for this year,” the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
I hadn’t heard anything about this cyberwar that’s apparently broken out between the two countries, but sure enough, a number of government and media websites in both countries have been attacked over the past several days, most likely (per the available evidence) by hackers on either side. So add that to the growing list of Saudi-Iranian grievances.
Whatever the Hajj ban says about regional tensions, it comes as a pretty big blow to Iranians who were planning on making the pilgrimage this year and I don’t think that should be discounted. Most Muslims are able to make Hajj, a requirement of their faith, only once or twice during their lifetimes, so not being able to go this year could be devastating for some people. I suppose it’s possible that some could try to obtain a Hajj visa from a third country, but they’re liable to face repercussions once they return home.