Iran: Mecca disaster a result of mismanagement or conspiracy

Iran: Mecca disaster a result of mismanagement or conspiracy
Comment: Iran announced three days of mourning, but it is important to draw the line between geopolitical motives and humanitarian responses, says Majid Mohammadi.
4 min read
28 Sep, 2015
Thousands of Iranians took the streets in mourning after the Mecca disaster [AFP]

According to Iran's Organization of Hajj and Pilgrimage, 169 Iranians were killed in Mina, four dozen injured and 307 people remain missing.

The Iranian government declared three days of mourning, and almost all high-ranking Iranian clerics issued statements condemning the Saudi government for the casualties.

Similar to any war or conflict in the region, most Iranians and Saudis are blaming each other for the tragedy.

Iranian mass media and officials from day one have stuck to this idea that Saudi officials closed all the routes to Mina except one - and this led to the stampede. They believe that Saudi police intentionally obstructed Iranian pilgrims' routes.

According to Saudi Arabia's social media sphere, as well as its newspapers, Iranian pilgrims were walking in the opposite direction on the route to Mina - and they were the one who caused the stampede. They believe the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were behind the tragic stampede.

God's providence and fate used to be the Shia and Sunni explanation for almost all happenings in the world. But when Iranians and Saudis are involved, no one wants to find God's hand in the events.

     When Iranians and Saudis are involved, no one wants to find God's hand in the events

Iranian Islamists, nationalists, and Marxists equally hate the Saudis with the same fervour - and are monotone in blaming the Saudi government.

Saudi conspiracy

"This is a conspiracy against pilgrims," said Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. "[The] Saudi regime is charged with this horrendous genocide," added the former head of the judiciary.

Plumping for a conspiratorial tone, Iranian news and social media have mentioned three main observations to support their theories:

1. The Iranian share of the pilgrims was three percent, while their share of the dead was around 20 percent (169 out of 769);

2. Saudi officials have denied they have issued a visa for Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance to travel to Saudi Arabia and review the situation. The Saudi foreign minister also denied meeting Iran's foreign minister in New York;

3. The Saudi interior minister has reportedly ordered the closed-circuit television cameras in Mina to be removed. He, apparently, according to Iranian media, does not want anyone to see the video recordings.

The counter-reaction on the Saudi side also refers to another set of observations to make its conspiratorial argument:

1. The disaster happened during the early hours of Eid al-Adha, the first day of hajj rituals. Prior incidents caused by crowds during hajj mostly happened later when the majority of pilgrims try to finish their rituals to go home;

2. Ghazanfar Roknabadi, former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, died in the stampede. He was in charge of increased relations with Hizbollah and had close ties with the organisation;

3. Just minutes after the stampede, Iranian government-owned TV channels and radio stations started attacking Saudi Arabia. They called for internationalisation of the administration of the Holy places in Mecca and Medina.


Almost all Rouhani administration officials believe that the cause of the disaster is due to Saudi regime's mismanagement and inefficiency.

"Saudi Arabia should take responsibility, take care of the injured, and accept our committee to run its own investigation," said Eshaq Jahangiri, Rouhani's vice-president.

Hasan Rouhani himself accused Saudi officials of not cooperating enough in dealing with missing persons and sending the injured and the bodies of the deceased back to Iran.

Khamenei himself blamed Riyadh's poor management of the pilgrimage:

"The Saudi government should accept its grave responsibility in this incident and deal with its consequences with justice and fairness. Mismanagement and ineptness are the culprits in this catastrophe and should not be ignored."

Mass murder

Iranian officials believe that Saudis are fighting against Shias in Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen - and they use every opportunity to kill them. They usually refer to the 1987 deaths of more than 400 Iranian pilgrims in Mecca as "a massacre".

     As usual, facts do not play a major role in understanding events in the Middle East

After the most recent stampede, an Iranian expert went as far as claiming that Saudis used poisonous gas to kill the pilgrims protesting 30 years ago.

And the sheer number of Iranians killed, injured or missing in this calamity - 524 - gives critics the opportunity to call this tragedy a massacre.

As usual, facts do not play a major role in understanding events in the Middle East. People are very fast in jumping to their own conclusions.

To make their judgments, some among the Iranian media and officialdom have ignored all the efforts of Saudi officials to deal with the disaster.

Meanwhile, some sectors of the Saudi population have made up their minds before the report of the committee formed by King Salman presents its findings.

The blame game does not permit people on either side to ask the hard questions: Could this tragedy have been prevented? Considering the long list of tragedies during hajj in the past 40 years, what are the best ways to manage this huge gathering?

Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian-born academic and the author of several books in Persian and English on politics, arts and religion in Iran.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.