After an absence at last year’s Hajj, Iranian citizens will attend this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca, says Saudi
Arabia. Last year was the first time in nearly 30 years that no Iranians attended the annual pilgrimage. This was attributed to the failure of the two states to agree on security and logistics, issues that arose due to the deadly stampede at the 2015 Hajj. Following a bitter rift between the two regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran came to the table to discuss logistical, security, and visa issues this year and ultimately came to a deal.
Two years ago, a human crush killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, at least 464 of whom were Iranians. Many political leaders in Iran, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the Saudis of having mismanaged holy sites and invoked Muslims around the globe to reconsider Saudi control of them.
Failing to protect pilgrims is just one of many of Iran’s claims against the Saudi government and its policies in the Middle East. Shia-majority Iran says Saudi Arabia must stop its alleged support for Sunni terrorist groups, and Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of fueling regional conflicts by supporting armed Shia movements in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. These assertions, along with increased tensions over the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, led to the official severance of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran in 2016.
Regarding the continuation of Iranians’ ability to perform Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, the agreement is one step in the right direction. Allowing the citizens of Iran to enjoy their rights as Muslims by visiting the holy sites and putting aside the complex political realities of the Middle East may not ease tensions to a desirable level, but is being celebrated as a point of compromise between Saudi Arabia and Iran.