Tensions increase between Qatar and Saudi Arabia over Hajj

Emir Tamim (l) of Qatar and King Salman of Saudi Arabia

Tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have again increased over access to the Hajj after the two countries appeared to have reached an agreement over the annual pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia agreed to a relaxation of restrictions for Qatari pilgrims entering the country after Riyadh accused Qatar of what amounted to a “declaration of war” over its stance on the guardianship of Makkah and Medina.

However, the arrival of Qatari pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as part of the plan appears to have heightened the tension, with Qatar accusing Saudi Arabia of deliberately making it difficult for its pilgrims to obtain permits to go to Makkah. Saudi has said Qatar is trying to use the annual Hajj pilgrimage for political leverage in the middle of the ongoing Gulf crisis.

Mounting tensions between Qatar and its neighbors spilled over in June, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and backing regional rival Iran.

The four nations issued a list of 13 provisos for the resumption of normal relations with wealthy Qatar, also the location of the largest US military base in the region. The list of demands included closing the Doha-based, state-funded television station Al Jazeera, severing ties with Iran and closing Turkey’s air base in Qatar.

Qatari officials have said only a small number of Qataris are expected to attend this year’s Hajj. Saudi Arabia has said more than 400 Qatari pilgrims have arrived through the Salwa border crossing since it was reopened under the deal. Up to 1,200 Qataris are eligible for the Hajj under an annual quota system operated by Riyadh.

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