BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia said last week that Iranians would be able to participate in this year’s hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, a rare bright spot in relations between the two regional rivals.
No Iranian pilgrims attended the hajj last year because of deepening tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian participation in the pilgrimage had become yet another flash point in their sectarian and strategic conflict.
The tensions have risen in recent years as they have supported opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, accuses Iran of weakening Arab states by funding militias. Iran, a revolutionary Shiite state, accuses Saudi Arabia of spreading an intolerant interpretation of Islam that has fed terrorism and endangered minorities.
Relations between the countries worsened after the 2015 hajj, when a human crush killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, including more than 464 Iranians. Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Saudi Arabia of mismanaging the holy sites and called on the world’s Muslims to reconsider Saudi control of them.
Saudi Arabia said the crush happened because pilgrims went the wrong way down a one-way passage but has never provided a detailed explanation.
Last year, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after rioters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran while protesting Saudi Arabia’s execution of Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken Shiite cleric who had criticized the Saudi royal family.
But in recent months, officials from the two countries have met to discuss Iranian participation in this year’s hajj, leading to Friday’s announcement that Iranian pilgrims could return.