Hajj pilgrimage entangled in web of Saudi politics

Source: Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — More than 1.7 million Muslims from around the world have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage this week. Once in Mecca — the site of Islam’s holiest place of worship— they will be reminded that the ruling Al Saud family is the only custodian of this place.

Large portraits of the king and the country’s founder hang in hotel lobbies across the city. A massive clock tower bearing the name of King Salman’s predecessor flashes fluorescent green lights at worshippers below. A large new wing of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is named after a former Saudi king, and one of the mosque’s entrances is named after another.

It’s just one of the many ways that Saudi Arabia uses its oversight of the hajj to bolster its standing in the Muslim world — and to spite its foes, from Iran and Syria to Qatar. Its archrival, the Shiite power Iran, has in turn tried to utilize the hajj to undermine the kingdom.

The hajj has long been a part of Saudi Arabia’s politics.

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