Saudis facilitate access to Qatari pilgrims, seem to endorse challenger to Tamim

'The noise Qatar is making and its attempts to politicise haj should end after King Salman’s generous, patient initiative,' Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash

Changed game. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) meeting with Qatari envoy Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Jassim al-Thani in Jeddah, on August 16. (SPA)

2017/08/20 Issue: 120 Page: 2

The Arab Weekly
Mohammed Alkhereiji

London- Qatari statements char­acterised as politicising the annual haj were neu­tralised by Saudi Arabia after Riyadh opened its border crossing with Qatar to al­low pilgrims the option of reaching Mecca by land.

In addition to opening the Salwa crossing, Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud directed the king­dom to send aeroplanes to Qatar to transport Qatari pilgrims to the haj at the king’s expense.

King Salman acted after talks in Jeddah between Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassem al-Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The Saudi-funded Al Arabiya sat­ellite news channel reported that Sheikh Abdullah is the brother of Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali al-Thani, who was overthrown in 1972 by his cousin, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, grandfather of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani.

The profile said Sheikh Abdul­lah’s branch of Thani family was “known for their good governance and administration of the country, and good diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries in the last century” and highlighted the fam­ily’s domestic achievements and initiatives.

Whether the meeting and deci­sion to open the border crossing are forms of endorsement by the Saudi government was unclear. However, official Gulf sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, de­scribed the meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed and Sheikh Ab­dullah as a “turning point” in the stand-off between Doha and the quartet of countries that estab­lished a boycott against Qatar.

The sources said the Saudis’ an­nouncement regarding the opening of the border crossing and the king hosting Qatari pilgrims indicate Ri­yadh’s lack of faith in Sheikh Tamim and its preference for Sheikh Abdul­lah as their link to the Qatari people.

The sources added that the ac­ceptance of Sheikh Abdullah as the mediator between Qatar and Saudi Arabia points to the “courageous nature” of the man, who is not re­served about wishing to play a posi­tive role in remedying the crisis.

A day after his meeting with the crown prince, Sheikh Abdullah trav­elled to Tangier and met with King Salman, who is vacationing in Mo­rocco, to personally thank him for hosting Qatari pilgrims.

The decision by Saudi Arabia to host them was extensively covered and lauded by the Saudi media and prominent Gulf officials.

King Salman’s decision is “some­thing no other Muslim country received before, even in normal circumstances,” wrote Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa on his official Twitter account. Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash praised Saudi Arabia in a tweet and said that “the noise Qatar is mak­ing and its attempts to politicise haj should end after King Salman’s gen­erous, patient initiative.”

Saudi Arabia has consistently re­jected politicisation of the haj, the largest annual gathering of Muslims around the world.

The stand-off between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours began June 5 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Doha because of what they described as Qatar’s continued interference in their countries’ internal affairs and its support for radical groups such as Hamas, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, charges that Doha de­nies.

A list of 13 demands issued by the quartet of countries must be met by Doha for negotiations to begin, the countries have said.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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