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Saudi Arabia gives Assad regime control over Hajj file, removing it from Syria opposition

January 11, 2024 at 8:25 pm

Pilgrims continue their worship to fulfill the Hajj pilgrimage on the first day of the Eid Al-Adha in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on June 28, 2023 [Elif Öztürk Özgöncü – Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia has given Syria’s regime of Bashar Al-Assad control of the country’s Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage process for 2024, removing the authority from the Syrian opposition after a decade.

According to a statement by Syria’s Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments), Mohammed Abdul Sattar Al-Sayed, he held a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Tawfiq Bin Fawzan, in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, where they mutually decided that the pilgrimage activities for this year will be coordinated with the Syrian regime.

It was further clarified in the statement that the two ministries will be holding joint preparatory committees to discuss and plan the necessary logistical procedures.

The announcement of the decision came after reports initially emerged recently that the Assad regime’s Hajj director, Hassan Nasrallah, signed an agreement with an official from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for the return of the pilgrimage file to Damascus.

Read: Reconciliation with Assad is a strategic mistake and backward step for the Arab world

The decision by Saudi Arabia to hand over the authority to the Syrian regime comes over a decade after the Kingdom gave the responsibility to the Syrian opposition’s Supreme Hajj Committee in May 2013, following the closure of the Saudi embassy in Damascus and the withdrawal of Saudi diplomats in response to the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and the outbreak of the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The reversal of that process is the latest development in the revival of ties between Riyadh and Damascus, signalling further normalisation of the Assad regime by the Kingdom and other Gulf Arab States, as well as a general mistrust of the Syrian opposition’s capabilities and legitimacy.

According to the outlet, Al-Modon, a source close to the Syrian Opposition Coalition said that the handing over of the Hajj file to the regime is primarily due to the Saudis’ preference to entrust pilgrimage matters to “institutions and the State” that they deem suitable for dealing with the process’s bureaucratic and logistical operations.