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Iran's Hajj Battle - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The biggest mistake that the Iranian leadership can commit would be to seek a confrontation at the coming pilgrimage season which is less than one month away. The statements they issue suggest that the Iranian leadership which is currently besieged by protests in its capital, Tehran, is searching for a battle to divert attention to a place other than Tehran. It is seeking to convince the Iranian people that there is an enemy they must unite to face, and it wants to use this to whip up nationalist and sectarian fervor.

Iran tried twice in the past directly to use the pilgrimage to create clashes. It lost both times, including in the major rioting opposite the Mecca sanctuary during which many were killed, an incident that colored Islamic relations with blood for subsequent years. This time, for the same old reason, the Iranian leadership wants a noisy battle on the international scene by turning the event into a political arena in which it challenges its adversaries, using some of its pilgrims to engage in clashes with other pilgrims and with Saudi security forces.

The Islamic world is filled with disputes among its members and between them and others. If Mecca and the holy sanctuaries are opened to expression and clashes, horrible massacres would be committed at the behest of political regimes. Iran knows that all the Islamic countries desist from politicizing the pilgrimage and refuse to transpose differences to it. This includes the State that oversees the pilgrimage affairs, Saudi Arabia which refrains from using the occasion for its purposes. Saudi Arabia has differences with other countries but it never happened that placards or portraits against others were raised in Mecca or at the holy places. Neither were there slogans that praise the stands of Saudi Arabia, despite the authority and direct presence it has on the ground. It is in Iran’s interest to rid the religious rite from the tampering of politicians. Iran today has a dispute with the United States, and there are Islamic countries that have disputes with Iran; Islamic countries that have disputes with Russia, and Islamic countries that have disputes with China, France, Syria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia. So would it be rational to exempt Iran and allow it to be active politically while the rest are prevented from doing so? If all these hostilities are allowed to float to the surface, the pilgrimage will become merely a political arena, not a religious occasion which millions of Muslims vie to perform once in a lifetime.

If the Iranian leadership decides to stir trouble through its mission or through the pilgrims of other nations, it would in effect alienate the Islamic world against it and will not find a single place in it that sympathizes with it irrespective of any justifications it cites.

There have been difficult years between Tehran and Saudi Arabia because of attempts by Iranian revolutionaries to exploit the pilgrimage for political purposes. Their differences with Saudi Arabia and others brought these events to the point of a difficult political estrangement. Tehran was not able to defend itself at the time. Had it not been for the efforts of then President Hashemi Rafsanjani, matters could have deteriorated in a worse way.

The entire world sees how the Iranian leadership is moving toward more extremism and more indulgence in violence internally and externally. It will not accept the desecration of the pilgrimage or exploiting it whatever the slogans Iran cites. Iran knows it will not find a single Islamic State that stands on its side in this battle if it sparks it and that it will be alone. Consequently, if the reason is to ease external pressures, they will be increased by clashes at the pilgrimage. If the objective is to ease tensions in Tehran, desecrating the pilgrimage will increase the hatred against the regime everywhere. In short, it will be another folly on a major international scale.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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