04/19/2016, 14.05
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Riyadh holding back on visas for Iranian Hajj pilgrims

Iranian Minister slams the Saudi government for creating “problems” in issuing visas. After four days of talks, Riyadh “has not yet offered a clear solution”. Iranian-Saudi regional rivalry and the politicisation of visas are behind the problem.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Talks between Tehran and Riyadh about the upcoming pilgrimage (hajj) to Makkah have stalled over visas for Iranian nationals.

For the Iranians, Saudi Arabia is creating problems for Iranian pilgrims who want to take part in this year’s Hajj.  “Unfortunately, the Saudi government has created problems in the past few months,” said Ali Jannati, Iran's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

The escalation of tension between the two great Islamic powers, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, seems to be continuing despite tentative signs of a thaw earlier this month over Hajj visas.

In recent days, the Saudi-Iranian row disrupted the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit in Istanbul and the OPEC meeting in Doha.

Riyadh had raised questions about visas and Iranian pilgrims arriving on Iranian aircrafts.

After intensive negotiations, the two reached a deal on transportation. Saeed Ohadi, head of the Iranian Hajj Organisation, said that Riyadh had agreed to the transfer of Iranian pilgrims by the Islamic Republic’s airlines.

However, this left the visa hurdle intact. "The problem of visa issuance has not been solved yet," Ohadi said. "Saudi Arabia has not yet offered a clear solution."

Back in January, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran following angry demonstrations in front of its embassy in Tehran and consulate in the north-eastern city of Mashhad over the execution in Saudi Arabia of 47 “terrorists”, including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Several Arab countries followed suit, pulling their ambassadors from Iran, including Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Sudan, sparking a political (and religious) crisis between Sunnis and Shias.

Relations between the Iran and Saudi Arabia reached an historic low in September 2015 in the wake of tragic incident during last year’s pilgrimage to Makkah when, according to Reuters, 2,070 people were crushed to death after two large masses of pilgrims converged at a crossroads in Mina.

Saudi Arabia claimed 769 people were killed in the incident. Iran lost 136 pilgrims plus 102 wounded, and 344 missing. One of the Iranians who died was the country’s former ambassador to Lebanon.

Tehran has blamed Saudi authorities of mismanagement and incompetence, suggesting that the incident might have been premeditated.

Hajj (pilgrimage) is one of the five pillars of Islam that every good Muslim should perform at least once in his or her lifetime.

Saudi Arabia has often used the visit to Makkah for political purposes. For example, Syrians have not been allowed to travel to the Muslim holy city for many years.

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