Qatar-Saudi Arabia tension causes uncertainty for haj pilgrims

The kingdom’s religious tourism sector is rooted in Mecca, a holy site for Muslims. Source: Shutterstock

DIPLOMATIC tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is making it difficult for Qataris to perform their haj pilgrimage in Saudi’s Islamic site of Mecca.

Last weekend, Saudi’s state carrier Saudi Arabia Airlines said it was unable to transport Qatari pilgrims to the kingdom because it had not obtained permission to land at the Doha airport.

A report by Reuters said Qatar had criticised an offer by Saudi Arabia to convey Qataris to the pilgrimage on the kingdom’s national carrier, rather than allowing Qatar’s airline or others fly them to Mecca.

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Qatar and Saudi Arabia, along with three other Arab states, have been embroiled in a political row which severed transport ties to Doha in June, but Riyadh said last week it would facilitate the travel of Qatari haj pilgrims.

However, sanctions imposed on Qatar have made it difficult for Saudi planes to get landing permits in Doha.

“It is usual and customary for pilgrims to be transported from any country by means of national air, land and sea transportation in that country,” Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry information director Ahmed al-Rumaihi.

“Saudi Arabia should lift the embargo on the State of Qatar without restriction and enable … Qatar to oversee its haj contingent and the transportation of Qatari pilgrims via their choice of airlines, Qatar Airways or otherwise.”

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Between two and three million Muslim pilgrims travel to Mecca every year to perform the haj – something every able-bodied Muslim is obligated to perform at least once in their lives.

Additional reporting by Reuters