Saturday August 18, 2018
By Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: Muslim pilgrims
attend Friday prayer at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Haj pilgrimage
in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra
RIYADH (Reuters) - Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of barring its
citizens from this year’s haj, something Riyadh denies, saying a
diplomatic dispute is not stopping Qataris from making the pilgrimage to
Although 1,200 Qataris are eligible to perform the haj under a quota
system, Qatar says it has become impossible to get permits, blaming the
campaign by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to
cut trade and diplomatic ties with the country.
Al-Kaabi of the state-run Qatar National Human Rights Committee said
Saudi Arabia had shut down an electronic system used by travel agencies
to obtain permits for pilgrims from Qatar.
“There is no chance
this year for Qatari citizens and residents to travel for haj,” he told
Reuters. “Registration of pilgrims from the State of Qatar remains
closed, and residents of Qatar cannot be granted visas as there are no
diplomatic missions.” A Saudi official said Qatar had blocked several registration links set up for its pilgrims.
official at Saudi Arabia’s haj ministry said a group of Qataris had
arrived for the pilgrimage which runs from Sunday to Aug. 24, but he did
not say how many there were or whether they had traveled directly from
Qatar. Last year, 1,624 Qatari pilgrims attended, he said.
Arabia says the Qatari government is using the issue for political ends
and it “rejects any effort to politicize the haj or drag political
differences” into the pilgrimage, the official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
Saudi Arabia, and the three other Arab
countries, closed land, air and sea links with Qatar in July last year,
accusing it of funding terrorism, something Doha denies.
Saudi Arabia has said Qatari pilgrims can arrive on any airline other than Qatar Airways.
three travel agencies in Doha told Reuters they had stopped trying to
sell haj packages, which can cost up to 120,000 riyals ($33,000).
year we lost a lot of money as the crisis started after we had booked
everything in Mecca and Medina and we had to pay people back,” said a
manager of one travel agency in Doha, declining to be named due to the
sensitivity of the matter.
“This year, nobody is really trying as people have understood there is no way to go there in these circumstances.”
temporarily opened the land border for the haj last year, but not this
time. A travel agency catering to migrant laborers in Doha said that had
“We sell haj journeys by bus with accommodation
for around 12,000 riyals,” its manager said. “But as nobody can get
visas and land borders are closed, it is zero bookings this year.”
diplomatic crisis has defied mediation efforts by the United States,
which has strong alliances with both sides and fears the split among its
Sunni Muslim allies could benefit Shi’ite Iran.
Saudi Arabia and
Iran are involved in proxy wars, including in Yemen and Syria, and
tensions between the two have spilled over into the haj in the past.
2016, Iran boycotted the haj over security concerns after hundreds of
people were killed in a crush there. Iranian pilgrims returned in 2017.
Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Robin Pomeroy