November 30, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 567

Against Backdrop of Clashes with the West Over Its Nuclear Program and the War in Yemen, Iran Tries to Instigate Rioting in Saudi Arabia During Hajj

November 30, 2009 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof*
Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 567


A few days before the Hajj (November 25-30, 2009), Iranian officials deliberately intensified statements calling on Shi'ites, and all Hajj pilgrims to Mecca, to conduct baraa - a kind of political protest against the infidels and apostates instituted by the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - against the U.S. and the Saudi Wahhabis, whom Iran currently claims are slaughtering Shi'ites in Yemen. [1] During the baraa ceremony, pilgrims demonstrate in denunciation of apostates and the enemies of Islam, chanting political slogans such as "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

In addition, Iranian senior officials, as well as the country's leading newspapers, hinted and warned that the unrest in Yemen would not be bound by that country's borders, and could spill over into Saudi Arabia, threatening the stability of the regime there.

It would appear that Iran is attempting to arouse unrest in Saudi Arabia, against the backdrop of increased demands in recent days by the U.S. and Russia that Iran accept the conditions for its nuclear program proposed by the 5+1 in Vienna, and also against the backdrop of the ongoing fighting in Yemen between the Shi'ite Houthis, who are aided by Iran, and the Yemen government troops, aided by Saudi Arabia, in which the latter side is prevailing.

The statements by Iranian officials are perceived in Saudi Arabia as incitement and as a threat to the stability of the country, because they have the potential to spark rioting similar to that in July 1987 between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security.

In response to these Iranian statements, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, who is in charge of the Saudi security forces, referred to attempts to politicize the Hajj at the annual Hajj press conference, saying: "Everyone knows that we oppose anything violating the sanctity of the Hajj and of the [holy] site, and that we will stand in full force and determination against any [attempt to] breach security during the Hajj." He added that Saudi Arabia would not allow anyone to undermine its security or to use its territory to harm others. [2]

The Saudi media and Saudi clerics responded with equal force. Media reports presented the Shi'ites as the enemies of Islam, and a group of 40 clerics and preachers circulated a statement warning against the spread of Iranian-Shi'ite influence in the Arab world. Calling the Shi'ites "rafidites" (meaning "refusers," a derogatory term applied by Sunnis to the Shi'ites), the statement urged the Sunnis to counter the Iranian-Shi'ite threat with a comprehensive campaign for spreading the Sunna. [3]

Two Saudi columnists attacked the Iranian Shi'ites on religious grounds. 'Abdallah Al-Mu'ayli of the daily Al-Jazirah called them "a group that deviates... from the path of righteousness and truth," and accused them of "lying and deceiving with a smooth tongue [and pretending] to love the family of the Prophet in order to deceive [the Muslims]... and market their superstitions and bid'a [innovations forbidden in Islam, such as the baraa ritual] in order to destroy the Muslim faith..." Al-Mu'ayli added that the Shi'ites "are afflicted with the disease of hatred for Islam and the Arabs," and called their leaders "evil men who wrap their heads and their brains in black [turbans] and who have never stopped wishing harm on Islam throughout history..." [4]

Ahmad Al-Zahrani of the Al-Madina daily called the Shi'ites "polytheists who deviate from the path of the Prophet," and said that they perform rituals of "worshipping the dead" that are alien to Islam and come up with forbidden innovations such as the baraa ritual against the infidels. He added: "We all strengthen the [Saudi] government in [its efforts] to stop these fools from realizing [their plot] and from harming the holy places and [Hajj] rituals." [5]

Iranian Senior Officials Call to Riot in Saudi Arabia

In their statements, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted that Saudi Arabia was serving the U.S. and the Western security agencies Iran claims are behind terror attacks in the Islamic world, and that Saudi Arabia is shirking its duties towards the Muslim faithful. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad also called on Shi'ites to carry out the Shi'ite commandment of baraa, which calls for demonstrating the hatred for apostates and for the enemies of Islam.

During an October 26, 2009 meeting with employees of the Iranian Organization for Pilgrimage Affairs, Khamenei said, "Participation in the baraa ceremony is a great [act of] propagating [Islam].... It shows that you have fully carried out [the commandment of] pilgrimage, in all its dimensions." He criticized the Saudi authorities for their "insulting attitude" towards the Shi'ite pilgrims, saying that "such acts contravene [the spirit of Islamic] unity and serve the goals and wishes of American and the foreign espionage services. [Therefore,] the Saudi government must do what it must in order to fight these phenomena." Khamenei added that the perpetrators of the terror bloodbaths and operations in Islamic countries, including those in Iraq and Pakistan, were foreign elements, and warned that "the pilgrims to Mecca cannot remain indifferent in light of what is taking place in the Islamic world, and particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and parts of Pakistan." [6]

During the same meeting, Ahmadinejad warned, "The potential of the baraa ceremony should be used to best advantage, as a special opportunity." He added that "if limitations are placed [by Saudi Arabia] on the Iranian pilgrims, and if their honor and status are not protected, particularly during the umrah [pilgrimage], the Islamic Republic of Iran will make appropriate decisions." [7]

Khamenei's representative for Hajj affairs, Mohammad Mohammadi Rishhari, who is wanted in the West for his part in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, called for unity in the Islamic world, and said, "During the Hajj, all eyes must be directed towards the infidel enemy, who lies in wait for us all. All people must announce their denunciation of all manifestations of apostasy, seen today in new forms." [8]

In his sermon on November 20, 2009, Tehran Friday prayer leader Qazem Sadiqi criticized Saudi officials who had objected to the baraa ceremonies and called them bid'a. He said, "Islam encourages Muslims conducting Hajj rituals to stand united... and to distance themselves from infidels," and quoted some Koran verses which, according to him, Imam Ali used to recite during the Hajj, thus making the baraa a permanent Hajj ritual. [9]

Friday prayer leader and Assembly of Experts member Ahmad Khatami told the Iranian Al-'Alam television network, which broadcasts in Arabic, that Wahhabi thought threatened not only the Shi'a but all of Islam, because it permits the killing of non-Wahhabi Muslims and forces its belief on the other Islamic streams. He rejected claims that the baraa ritual was bid'a, and said that it was taken from the instructions of the Prophet Muhammad. Khatami called on the Saudi government to permit Iranian and Shi'ite pilgrims to conduct the ritual, and to chant "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." He also called on all Muslims to conduct the ritual during their pilgrimages, and accused the Wahhabis of supporting terror attacks at holy Shi'ite sites in Iraq. [10]

Iranian Threats, Including Threats to the Stability of the Saudi Regime

In addition to efforts to incite rioting during the Hajj in Mecca, Iranian officials and media are making general threats against Saudi Arabia, primarily in the matter of the war in Yemen.

Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi said that the slaughter of Shi'ites in northern Yemen, that is, of the Houthi rebels, signifies the beginning of Wahhabi government terrorism that gravely endangers Islam and the region. He warned the Saudi leaders that the fighting would cross Yemen's borders, spreading first into Saudi Arabia and then throughout the Muslim world: "The officials... particularly in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, must know that [the consequences of] the sanction given by the Wahhabis to the slaughter of Shi'ites will not be limited to Yemen alone. Similar [events], which are taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will eventually be inflicted on the terror-supporting Wahhabis themselves, and will sooner or later sweep through the entire Muslim world." [11]

In a November 16, 2009 article in the Iranian daily Kayhan, titled "The Al-Saud Family, Two Steps Before the Fall," the paper's editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who is close to Khamenei, said that the Saudi rulers, who rule on behalf of the Americans and are on the verge of collapse, were sent by the U.S. to massacre the Shi'ites in Yemen, and that their warplanes are bombing the Shi'ite population there with cluster bombs: "The Al-Saud family, who rule by bloodletting under [American] sponsorship, are perpetrating in Sa'da [a province in northern Yemen, populated by Shi'ites] the same crimes that the Zionists perpetrated in Gaza, southern Lebanon, Darfur, and Kafr Qassem... Many signs, whose explanation exceeds the scope of this article, show that the Al-Saud family's [American-]sponsored regime has reached its end, and that even if America wants to - and it does - it cannot prevent its fall..." [12]

Kayhan further stated, on November 22, 2009: "By turning to violence, the Saudi and Yemen authorities only expand the aspirations of the [Houthi] fighters, and set themselves up for collapse." The paper also hinted that the impact of the local conflict would spread towards Saudi Arabia: "The changes in Yemen are advancing towards regional [crisis], and it will not be long before they acquire international aspects." [13]

Also, an article in Sobh-e Sadeq, the weekly of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), warned the Saudi leadership that its interference in the battles in Yemen could bring it down. The article stated that war in Yemen was the policy of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, who, fearing either Iran-U.S. rapprochement or Iran-U.S. war, were encouraging "controlled regional tension." [14]

The Islamic Students Association at Shahed University in Tehran threatened to take over the Saudi Embassy in Tehran if the "treasonous" Saudi rulers did not stop massacring Muslims in Yemen. The association also called on the regime to sever relations with Saudi Arabia if the desired results could not be obtained through diplomatic measures. [15]

Another warning was that of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who on November 10 said, "We strongly warn the countries of the region and the neighbors not to interfere in Yemen's domestic affairs. Stability in Yemen will help stability in the region, [but] any instability, in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, will impact the entire region. We strongly warn [the Saudis] to note that aid in funds and in weapons to extremist terror groups, or for oppressing the people by means of military attacks, will have extremely undesirable consequences." [16] Mottaki added: "If people [i.e. the Saudis] pour oil on the fire of fitna [civil strife], they can be certain that they too will be harmed by the [resulting] smoke and flames." [17]

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1] According to a November 23, 2009 report in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 65,000 Iranians are expected to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year - a drop of some 40% compared to last year's numbers.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 23, 2009.

[3] The pamphlet stated: "The [attempts] of rafidite Iran to destabilize the Muslim countries by means of its agents - who are financed and equipped by [Iran], and who become a spearhead for spreading the rafidite program and for destabilizing these countries - are dangerous and are a form of corruption. They compel the Muslims to be on their guard, to repel the rafidite expansion, and spread the Sunna [religious] school - while taking every [possible] security, propaganda and media measure to stop this dangerous expansion. There is need for a comprehensive campaign to counter this rafidite plan, for these rafidite enemies employ various kinds of violence and terrorism against our Sunni brothers in Iran, depriving them of their legitimate rights and freedoms. May Allah liberate our [Sunni] brothers and help them... The aim of rafidite Iran is to spread the Shi'ite school, which contravenes the holy scriptures, [and to stage] demonstrations during the Hajj, which purport to be baraa [rituals] of rejecting the infidels [but are actually] despicable heretic [demonstrations] aimed at political incitement, which must not be approved or allowed... We call on all the Muslim peoples and governments to support our brothers in Yemen and to spread the way of the Sunna, so as to become a solid wall against the rafidite expansion in the region.", November 13, 2009.

[4] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), November 15, 2009.

[5] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), November 10, 2009.

[6], October 26, 2009.

[7], October 26, 2009.

[8] Mehr (Iran),November 21, 2009.


[10] Al-'Alam (Iran), November 15, 2009..

[11] Mehr (Iran), November 17, 2009.

[12] Kayhan (Iran), November 16, 2009. The daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami, affiliated with the religious seminaries of Qom, claimed that Saudi Arabia is bombing the Houthis in northern Yemen with phosphorus bombs, and that the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Yemen are butchering the Houthis as part of an Israeli conspiracy aimed at bringing the Yemenite Jews to Israel. The daily claimed that the war, which Saudi Arabia started under American pressure, would harm it in its competition with Egypt over hegemony in the Arab world. The daily also stated that the efforts of the extremist Saudi Wahhabis to dethrone King Abdallah would increase in light of his dependence on the Americans. Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Iran), November 14, 2009.

[13] Kayhan (Iran), November 22, 2009.

[14] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), November 16, 2009.

[15] Shia Online (Iran), November 17, 2009.

[16] Etemad (Iran), November 11, 2009.

[17] Fars (Iran), November 10, 2009.

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