Anger in Social Media Over Saudi Airport Incident

Anger in Social Media  Over Saudi Airport IncidentAnger in Social Media  Over Saudi Airport Incident

What came as shocking news a few days ago has now taken the public by storm. The sexual harassment of two Iranian teenage pilgrims by Jeddah airport security forces has prompted a national protest movement.

Over the past couple of days, a deluge of comments in condemnation of the act has been circulating in the social media. Justice for the sexual predators and an official apology from the Saudi government is the least the people are demanding. Iranian officials have also been vocal in condemning the repulsive incident.

‘’If the Saudi government shows any hesitancy in this case that would indicate that it is no longer capable of providing security of the pilgrims, it will compel us to take other measures’’, wrote Saeed Owhadi, the head of the Iranian Hajj Organization in a letter to his Saudi counterpart. He urged the Saudis to swiftly pursue criminal charges against the two offenders.

Owhadi told the Persian-language ‘Iran’ newspaper that the two airport guards are in detention and the Saudi interior minister has insisted that they receive the ‘’maximum penalty.” Iran wants an ‘’official apology’’ from the kingdom, he said.

Hojatoleslam Ali Ghazi Askar, the Leader’s representative at the Hajj Organization also strongly criticized the scandal. ‘’Continuation of Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) depends on the behavior of the Saudis in responding to the crime,” he said.

 Soured Relations

The incident has further soured the already strained relations between the two countries.  Instead of making amends, Saudi officials are being intransigent and also showing signs of desperation, to say the least. So far two Iranian flights carrying pilgrims have been denied landing at Jeddah airport. In one case the Saudis claimed that the Iranian aircraft had a lifespan of over 25 years which made it unfit to land in the Arab country. This is while, according to Owhadi, it was common in the past for such Iranian aircraft to fly to Jeddah without any hindrance.

 Boycotting Umrah   

As protests intensify, demands for reprisals grow. On Tuesday people protested in front of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to vent their anger over what they deem as an act of gross dishonor against the nation. Campaigns have been staged on social media demanding a boycott of Umrah if Saudi Arabia fails to make reparations.

As for now, opinions are split whether or not to boycott Umrah altogether. Some say Iranians should continue the pilgrimage to show what their vision of Islam truly represents.

Others maintain that unless the Saudis put an end to their unfair treatment of Iranians and adherents of Shiites, Iranians should stop from spending their money in that unfriendly state.

Religious scholars inside the country also proposed a probable boycott on Umrah. Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi pleaded with the believers last week not to ‘’surrender to abasement’’ in order to perform a Mustahab (a virtuous act which is not obligatory). Addressing the House of Saud, he asked, ‘’if there is no security at the Jeddah airport, how can we expect to be safe in the streets and alleys?’’  

Owhadi says that cancelling Umrah is not under the jurisdiction of the Hajj Organization and need Majlis approval. “If they pass a law asking us to boycott Umrah, then we will comply.”  He says, “One big issue for us is the brutal stop-and-frisk at the Saudi airports which are becoming intolerable.’’

The speaker for the Majlis presiding board announced the introduction of a bill to temporarily halt Umrah flights “until the security of pilgrims is ensured.’’ Hossein Taghavi Hosseini said the proposal was tabled after the increase in the unacceptable behavior by the Saudis during Umrah, including the sexual abuse of the two Iranians at Jeddah airport.