The rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is now leading towards accusation of politicisation of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah.
Hajj is due to begin in early September this year and Saudi authorities are considered the custodians of Haramain, the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, its access to pilgrims and administration of Hajj as well as issuing of entry visas.
Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of politicising the Hajj, by imposing restrictions on Qatari nationals planning to travel to Makkah for Hajj as part of its ongoing rift with Qatar.
In a counter attack Saudi Arabia has accused the Qatari leadership of demand for internationalising the access to Makkah and Madinah, out of the administration of Saudi authorities.
Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has filed a complaint with the UN special rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over the restrictions, which it said were in “stark violation of international laws and agreements that guarantee the right to worship.”
The NHRC has complained that Qatari citizens have been told they can only enter Saudi Arabia through two airports, and that they must travel via Doha, capital of Qatar, to be allowed in.
The NHCR also said that it will lodge a second complaint against Saudi Arabia with UNESCO for subjecting Qatari nationals to harassment and threats in Saudi territory.
During the month of Ramadan, the group claimed that officials in Saudi Arabia forced Qataris who were visiting religious sites to leave their hotel rooms. Unable to fly on commercial flights, which had been blocked from travelling from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, they were forced to use chartered flights.
It also said Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah refused to communicate to Qatar and provide safety guarantees to 20,000 registered Qatari pilgrims that led to the suspension of registration.
The Saudi restrictions are part of a boycott launched on 5 June by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which saw the group sever diplomatic ties with Qatar and impose a blockade. They accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, allegations Qatar has strongly denied.
The four Arab states cut transport links with Qatar, and Saudi Arabia has closed the peninsula’s only land border.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have cut ties to Qatar have reportedly issued a list of demands to end this major Gulf crisis, insisting that Qatar shut down the Al Jazeera network, close a Turkish military base under construction and scale down ties with Iran.
According to the list, Qatar must refuse to naturalise citizens from the four countries namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt and “revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.”
In the past Saudi Arabia had similar disputes with Iran regarding Hajj from time to time with restrictions on pilgrims and their movement. Due to the breakdown of talks on security and safety of Iranian pilgrims, Iran did not send any pilgrims at Hajj in the year 2016.
Iran, in the past had called for the internationalisation of Haramain and its administration out of Saudi authorities. But it did not get much support from other Muslim states and the general Muslim masses.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia has been restrained in the past in allowing fairly generous access to pilgrims for the religious ritual of Hajj considered one of the five pillars of Islam.
Its aggressive restrictions on Qatari pilgrims performing their religious obligations, as a result of its political fallout with Qatar is unprecedented and uncalled for.