Iranian Hajj numbers double after Saudi-Iran reconciliation

The doubling of Iranian pilgrims is indicative of a recent Saudi Iranian reconciliation process brokered by China.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have previously witnessed severe tension over the Hajj pilgrimage (Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The number of Iranians taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage has more than doubled this year, following reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Around 87,550 Iranians are expected to participate in the Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca this week, up from 39,635 the previous year when relations between Tehran and Riyadh were more frosty.

Iranian pilgrims have told Reuters they were provided with much better transport services by Saudi authorities than previous years and it has been easier for the pilgrims to find hotels. 

Some believe these factors reflect much better relations between the two countries following a reconciliation process this year saw Saudi Arabia and Iran re-establish diplomatic ties.

The process began in March after a Chinese-led initiative saw the two countries improve ties after years of tensions.

As well as reopening embassies and consulates, the two countries restored previous agreements, such as a 22-year-old security cooperation accord that became defunct after the two countries broke ties in 2016.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have previously witnessed severe tension over the Hajj pilgrimage, which in turn has contributed to strains in relations between the two countries.

Iranian pilgrims had been absent from Hajj in 2016 following a stampede that killed over a thousand pilgrims, including 700 Iranians, in 2015. Iranian authorities had blamed Saudi authorities for the stampede.

In 2016, negotiations over Iranian Hajj pilgrims failed amid a breakdown in relations between the two countries after Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed by Riyadh, sparking attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

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