Saudi Arabia denies using hajj quotas as political leverage
In response to a report published in Today's Zaman, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ankara has rejected claims that it uses hajj quotas as political leverage. Saudi Arabia has asked several Muslim countries, including Turkey, to reduce their pilgrim quotas by 20 percent.
In the report, İhsan Özkes, a deputy from Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and a former cleric, told Today's Zaman that the disagreement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the Egyptian coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi in early July was reflected in the reduction of the hajj quotas.
In a letter sent to Today's Zaman, the embassy says, “The decision was taken on May 23, which is more than one month before Egypt's events,” rejecting any relation between reducing the quotas and Saudi Arabia's Egypt policy.
The letter added that the lower quota is temporary and was put in place with the welfare and convenience of pilgrims -- as well as safety threats from dangerous overcrowding -- in mind.
“In previous years, the kingdom responded positively to requests from some countries (especially Turkey) to get extra hajj visas in addition to their decided quotas, and now the kingdom expects these countries to show understanding for the current exceptional situation and help the kingdom in achieving the goals of all Muslims,” the letter says.
Due to the enlargement of the circumambulation area around the Kaaba, the number of Turkish pilgrims allowed to visit the holy land this year was cut from 74,000 to 60,000.
“The decision applies to all countries that pilgrims come from and is not designed against any specific country or countries,” the letter says.
Those 74,000 pilgrims were randomly selected from a pool of 1.37 million people last March. A total of 14,800 pilgrims, who had spent several months making preparations for their trip to the holy land, learned that they would be left behind just a few weeks before Ramadan.
“The embassy hopes that this letter clarifies any misunderstanding regarding hajj visas, which are not used by any means to achieve political ends.”