Mina tragedy; Iran needs to err on the side of caution

A former Iranian ambassador to Oman has said that the Islamic Republic should act vigilantly in dealing with the deadly stampede in Saudi Arabia.

Hajj, the largest human congregation in the world, has always been the focus of attention with the world watching the giant movement of Muslims in the great Land of Revelation.

Regrettably, this year’s Hajj was overshadowed by the loss of the lives of a large number of pilgrims who were observing part of the annual rituals in Mina on the Feast of Sacrifice. What happened in Mina left a bad taste in the mouths of all Muslims and a majority of the followers of other divine faiths.

This was the opening of an opinion piece by Morteza Rahimi, a former Iranian ambassador to Oman, Iran Newspaper published on September 26 on the Mina tragedy and the need for Iran to react vigilantly. The following is the translation of the rest of the piece:

Naturally, the Saudi government – as the host of Hajj – should have made elaborate preparations for the massive ceremony, but reports [coming from Saudi Arabia] suggest that the lack of prudence on the part of security forces and organizers of Hajj created a catastrophic incident. There are some points worth pondering here:

1. As the first step, the Saudi government should assume responsibility for the incident unless it can prove that there were factors beyond its control that marred this great congregation of Muslims. If Riyadh fails to present evidence on the role of culprits outside the realm of its control, as the host nation it has to accept legal and ethical liability for the incident, identify and bring to justice those who have played a role in the deadly stampede.

Evidently, this is the very first responsibility of the Saudi government in dealing with the world’s public opinion, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, which has been lacerated by the incident. The very first stances Saudi officials took following the deadly happening show that Riyadh lacks serious determination in this regard.

On some occasions, Saudi officials have used indecent and irresponsible language and helped spark off anger among critics instead of expressing sympathy [with the stricken nations] and trying to handle the barrage of rational criticism [over their management of the Hajj rituals].

2. The painful tragedy in Mina, like other incidents, needed proper post-incident management in order to reduce the number of casualties, but the Saudis proved the reverse. Reports indicate that the Saudi performance has been weak and well below global standards. This, in turn, has widened the scope and depth of criticisms directed at official Riyadh.

Following the crisis, Saudi Arabia could have taken appropriate measures to boost relief operations and [Muslim] solidarity: it could have asked for the participation of the Hajj offices of different Islamic countries, especially that of the Islamic Republic of Iran which is based in Saudi Arabia, [in the rescue and relief operations].

Evidence shows that the Saudis did not invite the Hajj offices of countries – which were bereaved and bereft – to help in the operations, but instead they gave the representatives of other countries the cold shoulder and threw serious obstacles in the way of those offices which sought to voluntarily help with the relief operations. What they did left a negative impact on the pilgrims present there and their families in different Islamic countries.

3. The agonizing tragedy in Mina drew rapid reactions from most Muslim nations, including Turkey and Indonesia, as well as global institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union, and officials from Russia and China who expressed sympathy with [the families of] the victims.

These reactions, which are in step with the position the world’s public opinion has adopted and implicitly blame Saudi rulers [for this tragedy], are not to the benefit of Saudi Arabia as far as international relations go.

In Iran, the Supreme Leader, the president and other officials voiced sympathy with people’s hurt feelings and stressed the need for efforts to pursue the incident. They also said that officials in Riyadh should take the blame for the tragedy, answer for their negligence [in handling the religious rituals properly] and abide by the obligations of the host country.

In such an atmosphere, efforts to give the Iranian and non-Iranian pilgrims the rights they are due seem feasible, but occasional calls for radical measures against Saudi Arabia seem unjustifiable and indefensible.

At best, such measures are the result of sentimental reactions by some Iranians to the mismanagement and lack of prudence on the part of officials in Riyadh; in worst-case scenarios they are [part of a] suspicious move which can change the place of the plaintiff and defendant in the Mina incident.

This can also play into the hands of Saudi officials: they can inflate such a move simply to lift the heavy burden of the world’s public opinion, especially Muslims, off their shoulders and replace the core [the tragedy and the blame for it] with marginal issues [the reactions of other nations].

The bereaved Iranians are expected to continue with their efforts to logically criticize Saudi officials and take civil measures such as rallies after Friday prayers, but avoid any harsh and irrational decisions.

Iranians are expected to let the country’s officials work with fellow Muslim nations and pursue the case through official and conventional channels such as the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and – if needed – through global institutions like the United Nations.

If so, Iranian officials can desirably handle the case and reach a solution so that the sufferings and excruciating pain of Iranians can be partially eased.

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