Gulf blockade derails Haj plans for Qataris
August 03 2017 11:17 PM
Qatari companies are unable to make arrangements for the Haj pilgrimage.

By Zineb Abdessadok/Al Jazeera

*Trips have been cancelled amid restrictions on flights and reluctance of Saudi companies to work with Qatari firms

Qatari nationals have been prevented from performing Haj amid a Saudi-led blockade, which has made it impossible for local companies to make the necessary arrangements for the annual pilgrimage.
Qataris have not been banned from performing the Haj, but companies that organise Haj trips have encountered other limitations, including restrictions on flights from Qatar and difficulties in securing accommodation and transportation within Saudi Arabia.
"It's a multi-angled issue. On the one hand, Saudi officials were not making it easier for the companies to prepare for Haj, and on the other hand, Saudi companies that provide services for Haj - such as accommodations - were reluctant to work with the Qatari Haj companies, fearing retaliation in light of the sympathy laws that were passed," Saad al-Abdullah, a representative for Qatar's National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), told Al Jazeera, referring to newly passed legislation criminalising public displays of sympathy for Qatar.
Most pilgrims from Qatar sign up with a Haj company that takes care of their accommodation, food and transport within Saudi Arabia for the duration of their pilgrimage. 
The NHRC and the UK-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) have released statements asking for the facilitation of Haj preparations within Saudi Arabia. AOHR pointed out that despite allowing Iran to establish consular services for the duration of the Haj, Saudi Arabia did not extend the same offer to Qatar.
"The rituals of Haj are not easy. There has to be co-operation between the Awqaf (Qatar's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowment) and the Haj ministry in Saudi," Qatari journalist Khalid Jassim noted in a recent video. "There isn't even a consulate or embassy to help gain clearance to prepare for pilgrimage or even ensure the safety of Qatari pilgrims."
Hatem al-Mansoori, the owner of a Qatari Haj company, told Al Jazeera that there would be no way to salvage the situation this year.
"Even if the sanctions are lifted, it's too late to take anyone to Haj this year, since preparations have to be made in advance," he said.
Saudi authorities have stipulated that only two airports will welcome Qatari pilgrims this year, and they must fly in via Doha, making the process even more difficult for Qataris living abroad, said the NHRC, which has filed a formal complaint with the United Nations.
While the Saudi measures do not necessarily infringe on Qataris' freedom to practise their religion, said Carl Buckley, a legal adviser for AOHR, "they are, however, being prevented - if the ban holds - from fulfilling an essential element of that."
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has dismissed the issue, with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir noting: "We reject attempts by Qatar to politicise the issue and consider it disrespect to the Haj and pilgrims." In response, Qatar's foreign minister, HE Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said: "Qatar did not politicise Haj, but sadly Saudi has made it a political issue."

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