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The New Arab

Overthrow govt or lose right to Hajj, Saudi newspaper tells Qataris

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Doha in June last year [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 August, 2018

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A Saudi paper has demanded Qataris make a choice between support for their government or their religious obligations with attending Hajj.
One of Saudi Arabia's leading daily newspapers has demanded Qataris overthrow their government if they want to fulfill their religious obligations as Muslims and perform the Hajj pilgrimage in the kingdom.

The headline of Okaz's front page on Sunday read: "To the Qataris: the house of Allah, or the Hamads", suggesting pilgrims must choose between their religious duties as Muslims and loyalty to their country.

The newspaper also appears to urge Saudi Arabia's leadership to use its hosting of the religious pilgrimage for political leverage in its current diplomatic stand-off with Qatar.

"It is necessary for the Qataris to move to free themselves from a regime that does not respect our religion, does not care for the rights of its citizens, and ceases to intervene, conspire, indulge in illusions and support and finance terrorism," the article reads.

Sunday marks the first day of the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, considered a sacred month for Muslims, when millions of Muslims flock to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia to perform the annual pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha in June last year, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism and cosying up to Iran, Riyadh's regional rival. 

Doha strongly denies all charges, but Saudi Arabia and its allies have continued to escalate the crisis, using government-controlled media to target Qatar with a storm of fake news.

Access to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina is considered a right to all Muslims, a notion that Saudi Arabia has long maintained, regardless of nationality or sect. 

The Hajj pilgrimage, which draws nearly two million pilgrims annually, is seen as part of the kingdom's responsibility and has mostly avoided using its hosting of the festival for political leverage, even after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Mecca and Medina is used as a form of political and religious legitimacy for the al-Saud royal family, and an important component of Saudi Arabia's influence in the Islamic World.

Despite Saudi Arabia's claims that access to the holy sites would not be affected, last month authorities arrested a Qatari man as he performed pilgrimage during Ramadan.

It made him the fourth Qatari to be arrested in Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Gulf crisis in June 2017.

Thousands of Qatari pilgrims are expected to miss Hajj for the second consecutive year due to the tough conditions imposed on the emirate by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Qatari pilgrims are unable to fly directly from Doha to Jeddah, nor travel by road via the Saudi border, due to the Saudi-led land, air, and sea blockade in place.

Rival Iran has long accused Saudi Arabia of using Islam's holiest sites for political leverage, and called for international management of Mecca and Medina.

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims who are able to must perform it at least once in their lives.

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