The Hajj and the future of Iranian-Saudi diplomatic relations

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This article is featured in the ORIENT IV 2016

The annual Hajj ritual was halted once again at the beginning of 2016, with the result that Iranian pilgrims were not able to perform the ceremony this year. In the light of this, the article first examines the real cause of the cancellation of the Hajj after Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations in January 2016. It then discusses whether the Hajj has the potential to help the two countries restore their diplomatic ties. The research reveals that the main reason for the cancellation of the Hajj was geopolitical rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh. Indeed, the Hajj became politicized once again thanks to the serious rivalry between the two Middle eastern heavyweights, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The cold war that has coloured the two states’ relations did allow negotiations regarding the Hajj pilgrimage, but with no result. However, in the light of historical experience, the article argues that due to the religious, economic and political pressures and necessities that Saudi Arabia and Iran are likely to face in the near future, they have no choice but to restore diplomatic ties as well as open the Hajj ceremony once again to Iranians. Meanwhile, other countries like the United States consider that regional peace and stability can only result from compromise and participation between Tehran and Riyadh, so they support the likely rapprochement between the two states.

Reza Ekhtiari Amiri is Assistant Professor at the University of Mazandaran in Iran and a visiting research fellow at Iran’s Parliament Research Center. He is also a research fellow at the Center for Scientific Research and Middle east Strategic Studies. He is the author of Iran and Saudi Arabia: From economic to Security Cooperation (1991-2001) and co-editor of the book Political and Social Affairs of Iran in New Era.

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