The decision means that for the first time in 30 years, tens of thousands of Iranians cannot make their spiritual journey to the main pilgrimage site of Islam in September. Iran has the world’s second largest Shia Muslim community.
The decision came after several rounds of discussions between officials of Iran and Saudi Arabia concerning the travel of pilgrims from Iran to Mecca. Iran’s officials said no pilgrims would be sent to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina because of obstacles created by Saudi officials.” Iran accused Saudi Arabia of pursuing policies that escalate tension in the region. Iran’s Hajj organization condemned Saudi Arabia for obstructing the sacred right of Iranians to perform hajj this year. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of politicizing the pilgrimages and said Iran must take responsibility for banning its citizens from performing hajj.
An Iranian delegation concluded its visit to Saudi Arabia on May 27 without any agreement on the travel of Iranian pilgrims to Mecca. Though the two sides agreed to allow Iranian pilgrims to use a printed e-visa to travel by plane to Mecca, they failed to reach consensus on security issues. Iran insisted that Saudi Arabia guarantee security because 464 of 60,000 Iranian pilgrims who went to Mecca last year died in a stampede.
This month’s meetings were the second effort to reach consensus on travel by Iranian citizens. A meeting in April also failed.
About 600,000 Muslims travel to Mecca each year. They bring Saudi Arabia revenues of between US$1 and 2 billion.
Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been contentious for a long time. In January, Saudi Arabia suspended its diplomatic ties with Iran, banned Iran’s commercial flights, and refused to grant Iranian Muslims visas to travel to Mecca to perform hajj.