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Opinion: Politics and Pilgrimage Do Not Mix - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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During the pilgrimage season in 1987, a fierce confrontation occurred between elements from Iranian militias and some Iranian pilgrims on the one hand, and Saudi security forces on the other. I still remember these bloody incidents very well because I was performing the pilgrimage at that time, and I remember how the news spread from Al-Aziziya and Mina and elsewhere.

Now I recall these bloody incidents once more in view of the threats of adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood that they will demonstrate and raise political slogans and will wave the Rab’aa four-figure salute, which the Saudi government, its Interior Minister and the Minister of Royal Guards have warned against. Attempts to exploiting the jam-packed pilgrimage season for political purposes are not new. Because of the crowd, the pilgrimage is a very special occasion that temps some to try to launch into oratory and spread political messages.

If these practices are allowed, the Hajj rituals and the holy sites of Mina, Arafah and Al-Masjid Al-Haram would all become battlefields for clashes and struggles between people from all over the world.

In the most recent edition of its archive, The Majalla magazine re-published some coverage of the Iranian riots during the Hajj in 1987.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s report, the death toll among security forces and the pilgrims from Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere was 402, let alone the many wounded.

The Saudi stance at that time was strict in rejecting Iran’s attempts to exploit the pilgrimage occasion. The most prominent reactions was the political comment made by Iranian opposition figure Abul-Hassam Bani Sadr in which he said that he had accurate information about what happened in Mecca and about Iranian targets, which the pilgrims sought to achieve.

Asked about his opinion of what happened, Banisadr said the Iranian plot was part of the strategy of the war being waged in the Gulf region, and that what happened in Mecca was part of what was called “Martyrs Plan.” He added that Al-Ghaffari, an Iranian MP, was in charge of implementing the plot.

According to Banisadr, objective of the plot was to demonstrate and protest, in light of the Iranian belief that the authorities would not quell the demonstrations and were going to be tolerant, as was the case in its handling of demonstrations in previous years.

Iran’s attempt failed, and so will any other attempts by whoever wants to follow the footsteps of the Supreme Guide and his guards, the Guides of either the Sunnis or the Shi’ites.

Were it not for the strict policy of the Saudi authorities, the pilgrimage season would become a battlefield.