Saudi Arabia threw the ball in Qatar’s court when it agreed to send seven Saudi airplanes to transport Qatari pilgrims directly from Doha and when it exceptionally opened its land border for those wanting to perform Hajj.
The kingdom has firmly shut the door to the Qatari authorities’ overwhelming desire to ban its nationals from visiting holy sites. Riyadh is aware that since the beginning of the crisis in June, Doha has been looking for excuses to prevent its citizens from performing the fifth pillar of Islam.
Yet, Saudi Arabia granted Qataris what hasn’t been granted to others, not even Saudis. It didn’t request any electronic passes for the Qataris to enter Saudi territories and they were included within the Guest Program of the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques which usually includes politicians, leaders, scholars and ministers from all over the world.
Riyadh is aware of the fact that Qatari pilgrims have nothing to do with their government’s attempt to use them as a pressure “card” on Saudi Arabia.
But, what makes Qatar so desperate to ban its 1,600 pilgrims from performing the Hajj? Why is it putting these obstacles, including not issuing landing permits for Saudi planes?
I believe there are three reasons for Qatar’s attempt to politicize this issue. First of all, it tried to blame Saudi Arabia internationally, thinking it can harm it and affect its efforts in serving millions of pilgrims each year. Surely, it was an epic fail that did not even attract its closest allies Iran or Turkey.
A non-Muslim country like Norway was furthermore surprised that an issue like politicization of Hajj has been discussed with it.
Second, Qatari authorities are aware that they deluded their citizens when they warned them from attending this year’s Hajj, claiming they fear for their safety.
Aside from the fact that it is impossible for Saudis to harass their Qatari brothers, and that Hajj is a religious act, Qatari authorities know their warnings and accusations will be revealed later on when the pilgrims are allowed to attend.
Saudi Arabia is used to serving all pilgrims of all nationalities without any discrimination. The reason for Hajj is to boost equality among all pilgrims; all of the worshipers wear white and perform Hajj in a single place at the same time without being able to distinguish whether they are Saudis or Qataris or Egyptians.
The final reason is Qatar’s delusion that by politicizing Hajj it can negotiate the severance of ties and limit the conditions set for the end of the embargo. Doha thought it can embarrass Saudi Arabia by focusing its political, diplomatic and media war against the Hajj season.
Yet, Doha failed to see that neither the world noticed its attempts to stir trouble against the Hajj season, nor did its citizens believe that they are endangering their safety by traveling to Saudi Arabia.
The 443 Qatari pilgrims who entered Saudi Arabia by land will debunk their government’s claims once the season is over and once they return safely to their country.
Despite its hopeless attempts, Qatari pilgrims will attend Hajj this year in probably the biggest political and social blow to the government. The only thing it managed to do was to cause more trouble to them; instead of heading to Saudi Arabia by plane, the pilgrims are forced to travel by land into Saudi territories and from there they will be transferred through Saudi planes into Mekkah.
Unfortunately, the Hajj season of 2017 will be a shameful stigma in Qatar’s history that will not be eradicated when the political crisis is over.
Qatari nationals will always remember that their government banned them from Hajj, and they will recall that despite Saudi Arabia’s political disagreement with their country, they were welcomed and well received.
Most importantly, they will also remember how the kingdom didn’t allow their government to ban them from practicing their religious duties.