But as Saudi King Salman announced an official investigation into what caused the deaths, at least one senior Iranian cleric called on Saudi Arabia to hand over the responsibility of organizing the yearly pilgrimage to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an international body they claim would be better suited to address the causes of deadly disasters in recent years.
The chances of that happening? According to Maloney, just about zero.
“It’s central to their legitimacy as a ruling system,” she told Foreign Policy. “The sovereign expectations of a government that is both religious in its nature and controls the territory of the holy sites would make it impossible to really imagine any alternative mechanism for managing this kind of massive undertaking every year.”
But that doesn’t mean Iran won’t try. Even before the 1979 revolution, Iranian pilgrims were encouraged by their government to use the hajj as an opportunity to push back “against monarchical systems like the Saudi royal family,” Maloney said. Iran’s response to this particular incident, she added, has actually been “more temperate” than might have been expected considering their rhetoric after past incidents at the hajj. When hundreds were killed in the 1980s, for instance, “it led to real strains between the two countries,” she said.