Vitaly Naumkin: decision not to participate in Hajj is part of the political game between Tehran and Riyadh
The Iranian authorities decided to cancel participation in the Hajj due to the concerns that Saudi Arabia cannot guarantee security for Iran's citizens. It is another step in the escalation of the political confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran where religion is used as a tool, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Vitaly Naumkin, said in an interview with 'Vestnik Kavkaza'.
The bilateral relations took a sharp downturn as a result of two events: the death of 464 Iranian citizens during the last year’s Hajj and the severance of the diplomatic relations between the two countries because of the attack on the Arabian embassy in Tehran, provoked by the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia. Tehran held talks with Riyadh to ensure additional security for Iranian citizens during the Hajj, but these negotiations yielded no result. Saudi Arabia refused to meet Iran's demands, and the Iranian authorities announced that their citizens will not be able to participate in the Hajj.
According to the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, the event is a result of the ongoing rivalry between the two camps for influence in the Islamic world. "I cannot forecast an early settlement of this issue, as it is a very deep conflict. Saudi Arabia presents itself as the defender of all Sunnis in the Islamic world and Iran represents the Shiites. Today the Shiite-Sunni contradictions are deep,'' he recalled.
Both countries have mutual claims against each other. "Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of the Persian Gulf countries: in Yemen and Bahrain, and believes that Iran influence Iraq's political life, as well as supports Hezbollah. "It is difficult for Saudi Arabia to reconcile with Iran because of this. Iran accuses Saudi Arabia in turn for its alleged support of terrorist groups including Daesh and Dzhebhat en-Nusra and others. These are very complicated contradictions that prevent resolution of many conflicts in the region,'' Vitaly Naumkin underlined.
According to him, the main consequence of the cancellation of the Hajj for citizens of Iran will be more tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. At the same time, the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies believes that this issue with the Hajj will be resolved in the future.
"I think the sides will try to come to an agreement. The restrictions that Saudi Arabia may impose on Iranian pilgrims in terms of religious obligations are not acceptable no matter who they are the Sunnis or the Shiites. On the other hand, Iran constantly accuses Saudi Arabia that it cannot ensure the safety of the pilgrims. However, since the Hajj is a religious and not a political issue, the parties can agree on how the Iranian pilgrims can travel to Mecca, and stop the problem aggravating even further,'' Vitaly Naumkin said.