During the press conference which Makkah’ governor Khaled al-Faisal held at the emirates’ headquarters in Mina, he talked about the pilgrims coming from Iran and said: “Iranian pilgrims are our brothers in Islam. We’ve received them and welcomed them in this holy land. We hope they perform hajj, like they arrived, in peace, and that we have nothing but good and kind words to say about one another.”
These statements are significant because they’re made by a prominent Saudi official who has administrative and political experience and holds an important post in supervising and organizing hajj rituals. His statements separated between politics and worship. The depth of the political and diplomatic dispute between Tehran and Riyadh is no secret; however, it did not affect the hajj season this year. The coordination and agreement between the two countries contributed to helping the Iranian pilgrims perform the rituals safely. Reuters quoted Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, as saying: “To be honest, the Saudis are doing a great job, working hard to deliver the best service.”
Let’s take a look at history, specifically at the phase when Hejaz began to submit to the command of King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman. Back then, he sent a letter to the Persian consul in Jeddah and said: “We inform our Muslim brothers that all problems and difficulties which Hussein caused in these holy sites are over. The doors of Hejaz are now open for whoever wants to enter through them.”
This letter which Iranian researcher Banasheh Keynoush mentioned in her book “Saudi Arabia and Iran – Friends of Foes,” confirms that managing the two holy mosques was separated from political disputes and sectarian and ideological stances.
Safety and security
Everyone’s main concern was to maintain the safety and security of pilgrims. When the Persian consul in Syria, Habib Allah Hwaida, visited Jeddah on October 20, 1925, he said in a report: “Mecca, under the governance of Abdulaziz, has become better than it was during the days of the Ottomans and Hashemites.” Keynoush said in her book that King Abdulaziz “achieved what the Hashemites had been unable to: the difficult task of fighting bandits and lowering crime rates against pilgrims.”
These documents show the importance of working to address any political and security dispute that may jeopardize pilgrims’ safety, regardless of where they are form. This means that dialogue and agreement between the two countries are possible if intentions are honest – especially that the pilgrimage experience confirmed that it’s possible for Riyadh and Tehran to reach practical arrangements and agreements.
The important point that obstructs any progress in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the mistrust which resulted from negative experiences in the past years and made Riyadh feel that Tehran makes promises and eventually breaks them.
Keynoush quoted Saudi officials she met in the kingdom as saying that the Saudis blame Iran for making inconsistent statements and think that Iran “will never give up its revolutionary ambitions.” So will Tehran launch a goodwill initiative towards its Arab neighbors in the Gulf to eventually resolve the current problems and decrease sectarian and security tensions? Will it do so at this time when the entire region needs to take a practical stance against terrorism and chaos or it does not care?
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with an interest in Middle East and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.