Qatar — the Haj trick!


IT IS amazing how people lie to your face, even when knowing that you can see through their lies.

I wondered, as my Qatari counterpart kept repeating to the BBC host outrageous claims: "No Qatari went to Haj. Those who appeared on Saudi TV were actually Saudis and Yemenis pretending to be Qataris. Those who crossed the borders to Saudi Arabia were not going to Haj, but to check on their business there. Some of them might have decided to use the occasion to perform Haj, but it wasn’t their original intention.

“They should not have done so, because Saudi Arabia is using them for political gains. Saudi authorities have forced every Qatari guest to sign a political declaration against their country. Iran used its “strong” men in Iraq to force the Kingdom to accept Iranian Hajis. The United Nation also forced Saudi Arabia to open the door for Qatari Hajis but they refused to go!”

All these contradictory, insulting statements (even to his own people) were delivered during a 5-minute interview by the same spokesperson. Not once, Dr. Ali Al-Hail, flinched, apologized, or clarified, even after the program host pointed out his faults. For example, when told that Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Al-Thani had already admitted that Qataris did go to Haj, he just changed the subject and resorted to other lies.

I find myself in an awkward position when asked to respond to such illogical claims. Since answering every claim is impossible, I usually focus on delivering a coherent narrative based on publicly known facts.

Qatar, like Iran, tried to use Haj as leverage in a political game. Its government made a big fuss about how Qataris could reach Makkah with the Saudi borders closed. They also claimed that their citizens wouldn’t be safe unless they were escorted by security guards, diplomats and officials. They must travel on Qatar Airways, since Saudi Airlines is not safe enough. Qatari embassy and consulate must be opened to care for them. Above all, Saudi government must provide guarantees that Qataris won’t be prosecuted or mistreated.

It was meant to the embargo lifted or the stalemate ended. This way, Qatar could play the victim, call for international management of Haj, win their people’s sympathy, channel their anger towards Saudi, and use the episode as a tool in its propaganda machine.

Two weeks before Haj, a senior Qatari Sheikh, Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Thani, visited Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, and asked for the borders to be opened during Haj. King Salman offered more, much more. He allowed Qataris to enter without visas or Haj permission, aboard Saudi airplanes as his guests. A hosting committee headed by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani was assigned to provide any assistance Qataris may need, whether for Haj or private interests, via free hotline.

When Qatar refused to grant Saudi planes permission to land in Doha, the Kingdom provided direct flights from Dammam and Al-Hassa airports — a short distance form the Qatari border. Qataris were treated as royal guests and provided with transportation, accommodation and escorts.

The Qatari government’s response was shocking. First, they tried to persuade their citizens not accept the offer. When that failed, they claim that their intentions were not pure. “Those who pretend to go for Haj were actually going to visit their relatives and do business,” accused Qatari spokespersons, like Dr. Al-Hail. Instead of thanking Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for his generous hospitality, they charged the Kingdom of politicizing Haj.

“Saudi Arabia has all the wrong intentions in their loaded, evil, treacherous offer to host our Hajis,” protested Dr. Al-Hail. “They are trying to interfere in our internal affairs and force our people to give allegiance to Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani. If they truly had good intentions, they would have lifted the blockade against Qatar. And why did they allow Iran to send 10 escorting diplomats and none from our side? Sheikh Abdullah and his entourage don’t count,” argued the Qatar University professor.

Now, all this fuss is about 1,500 Hajjis among 2.5 millions. Iran sent around 90,000, Indonesia 200,000, and more form India. None asked for an army of escorts or demanded safety guarantees. Besides, it is not the first time Qataris have come to Haj — they reported no concerns before, so why the worries all of a sudden?

Dear Qatari leadership, here is a free advice: Find other ways to lift the Arab embargo — like cutting ties with terrorists. Obviously, the Haj trick did not work!

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi