1987 Mecca incident

The 1987 Mecca incident was a clash between Shia pilgrim demonstrators and the Saudi Arabian security forces, during the Hajj pilgrimage; it occurred in Mecca on 31 July 1987 and led to the deaths of over 400 people. The event has been variously described as a "riot" or a "massacre". It arose from escalating tensions between Shia Iran and Wahabbi Saudi Arabia. Since 1981, Iranian pilgrims had held an annual political demonstration against Israel and the United States,[1][2] but in 1987, a cordon of Saudi police and the Saudi Arabian National Guard had sealed part of the planned demonstration route, leading to a confrontation between them and the pilgrims. This escalated into a violent clash, followed by a deadly stampede. There is a controversy regarding the details of the incident, with both Iran and Saudi Arabia laying much of the blame on the other side. Some sources claim the death toll from the incident was 402 people: 275 Iranian pilgrims, 85 Saudi police, and 42 pilgrims from other nationalities.[3] Other sources claim that more than 400 pilgrims had died, and thousands more injured. After the incident, Iranians attacked the Saudi, Kuwaiti and French Embassies, abducting four Saudis from the embassy.[2]

Coordinates: 21°26′7.18″N 39°49′44.68″E / 21.4353278°N 39.8290778°E


There is a long history of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who had what Shia Muslims considered a "deviant innovation" in promoting Salafi Islamism,[4] had initiated the destruction of various religious burial sites in Hejaz, and King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, a family descendent of al-Wahhabi, continued with this initiative, destroying parts of the Shiite-revered burial site of Al-Baqi' in 1925. This caused outrage in Iran, with the Iranian government calling for the ousting of ibn Saud, and banning Iranians from performing the pilgrimage in 1927.[5] In 1943, an Iranian pilgrim was beheaded based on Saudi charges that he brought excrement inside the Great Mosque on his garment. Iran lodged a formal protest, and suspended pilgrimage until 1948.[6]

For years, Iranian pilgrims had tried to stage demonstrations called "Distancing Ourselves from Mushrikīn" (برائت از مشرکين) in the Muslim holy city of Mecca during the hajj.[7] These demonstrations had their origins in 1971, when Ruhollah Khomeini instructed his Shiite followers to distribute political messages when performing their pilgrimage.[8] Even though a few Iranians were arrested for this act, the Saudi officials were generally apathetic, as they did not view these political messages to be a threat to the Saudi royalty.[9] The practice of distributing political messages, which were mainly criticism of the United States and Israel, as well as pro-Western governments, continued up until the year 1981.

In 1981, this was escalated into openly chanting political slogans in the Masjid al-Haram and the Prophet's Mosque, two of the holiest sites in Islam, resulting in violent clashes with Saudi security and one death.[1] In the same year, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia wrote a letter to Saddam Hussein saying "crush these stupid Iranians" as Saddam pushed on with the invasion of Iranian territory.[10]

In the following years, both sides tried to calm the situation: Khomeini urged his followers to maintain peace and order, not to distribute printed political material, and not to criticize Muslim governments. In return, Saudi officials reversed their earlier position and allowed two separate demonstrations to take place: One in Mecca, and the other in Medina.[11]

By 1986, the situation was calm enough for Saudi officials to re-open the sealed al-Baqi' cemetery for Shiite pilgrims, and in response, Khomeini’s representative formally thanked the Saudi King for the gesture.[12] However, in the same year, Iranian radical Mehdi Hashemi was accused of smuggling explosives on an airplane headed for Saudi Arabia, renewing Saudi fears.[13] Further adding to the tensions were the demands made by Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha in 1987 to allow the Iranian pilgrims to hold their demonstrations within the Great Mosque itself, and without the presence of security guards.[14] Khoeiniha had been earlier appointed as the supervisor and personal representative of Ayatollah Khomeini for Hajj affairs, but had been expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1982.[15] Even though Mehdi Karrubi, who was Khomeini’s official pilgrimage representative that year, tried to assure Saudi officials that the demonstrations would take place in the usual manner and in the agreed routes, it did little to quell the Saudi fears.[16]

Before the demonstrations started, Khomeini instructed the Iranian pilgrims to maintain peace and remain civil during the pilgrimage.[17]


On Friday July 31, 1987, the demonstration by Iranian pilgrims against the "enemies of Iran" (including the U.S. and Israel) started amid heightened security. The march was uneventful until towards the end of the planned route, where the demonstrators found their way blocked by Saudi riot police and National Guardsmen. At this point, some of the Iranians began to call for the demonstrations to press ahead and continue to the Great Mosque. While this was happening, unidentified persons began harassing the Iranian pilgrims by throwing bricks and other objects at them from a nearby location. These factors exacerbated the situation, escalating it into a violent clash between the Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security, with the Saudis reportedly using truncheons and electric prods and the Iranians using knives and clubs.[18]

Saudi security personnel reportedly opened fire on the demonstrators, a charge which Saudi officials deny. The rioting, and the resulting stampede caused a reported 402 dead (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 42 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis and 201 other nationals).[19]

The details are controversial. Iranian officials maintain that the Saudis had fired on the protesters without provocation, and that the demonstrations had been peaceful. Saudi officials insist that no shots were fired, and that all deaths were caused by the melee and stampede.[20]


Hajj1987 memorial
Memorial and Tombs of Victims in Iran

On August 1, 1987, a spontaneous demonstration by enraged Iranians ended with attacks on the Kuwaiti and Saudi embassies in Tehran.[21] On the same day, the Iranian leader Khomeini called on Saudis to overthrow the House of Saud to avenge the pilgrims' deaths.[22] In a Washington news conference, the Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan claimed that "not one bullet was fired", blaming the violence on the Iranian pilgrims who he accused of "brandishing knives, clubs and broken glass drawn from beneath their cloaks".[23] According to Dr. Robert O. Freedman, Professor of Political Science at Baltimore Hebrew University: "Later on, however, Iranian officials displayed the bullet wounds in the victims' bodies, which proved that the Saudis had indeed used firearms."[24] Robin Wright also reports that "Many of the Iranian bodies, shown to American and European reporters immediately upon their return to Tehran, had bullet punctures."[25]

Both sides took additional measures to bolster their view on the issue. Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran and reduced the number of permitted Iranian pilgrims to 45,000, down from 150,000 in earlier years. Iran boycotted the Hajj for three years, from 1988 to 1990.[26]

In 1991, Iran and Saudi Arabia renewed diplomatic relations after coming to an agreement to allow Iranian pilgrims to perform the Hajj once more. The total number of pilgrims was set at 115,000, and the demonstrations were allowed to be held, but only in one specific location granted by the Saudis. Under this agreement, Iranian pilgrims continued their annual demonstration in the 1990s and 2000s with few or no incidents. They limited their rally to within the confines of their compound in Mecca.[27]

Approximately 20,000 Pakistani troops stationed in Saudi Arabia were sent back to Pakistan, as Saudi Arabia was uncomfortable with the presence of Shi'ite soldiers.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Iranian Official Urge 'Uprooting' of Saudi Royalty", The New York Times, August 3, 1987
  2. ^ "Gulf Tensions Rise", The New York Times, August 2, 1987


  1. ^ a b "large demonstrations, resulting in violent clashes with Saudi police, first took place in 1981, when Iranian pilgrims began to chant political slogans in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and the Great Mosque in Mecca. Saudi security forces acted against the Iranians in both mosques, and a subsequent clash in the Prophet’s Mosque resulted in the death of an Iranian pilgrim" Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East, page 183
  2. ^ a b KIFNER, JOHN (1987). "400 DIE AS IRANIAN MARCHERS BATTLE SAUDI POLICE IN MECCA; EMBASSIES SMASHED IN TEHERAN". nytimes. nytimes. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  3. ^ Emmanuel Sivan; Menachem Friedman (1990). Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East. SUNY Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-7914-0159-0.
  4. ^ Mannah, Buṭrus Abū; Weismann, Itzchak; Zachs, Fruma (2005-06-11). Ottoman Reform and Muslim Regeneration. I.B.Tauris. p. 83. ISBN 9781850437574.
  5. ^ "...the Iranian government refused to recognize Ibn Sa‘ud’s rule... ...in 1927, with a decision by Iran to forbid the pilgrimage to its nationals..." Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East, page 164/165
  6. ^ "In 1943, a Saudi religious judge ordered an Iranian pilgrim beheaded for allegedly defiling the Great Mosque with excrement supposedly carried into the mosque in his pilgrim’s garment..." Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East, page 165
  7. ^ "BBCPersian.com". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  8. ^ "In 1971, several Iranians were arrested in Mecca for distributing a message to Muslim pilgrims from one Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini" Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East, page 182
  9. ^ "After 1971, hardly a year passed during which some Iranians did not distribute a similar message from Khomeini to Muslim pilgrims. The effort usually met with Saudi apathy, for the Saudis did not regard this preaching as directed against themselves." Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East, page 182
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ "Khomeini’s pilgrimage representative was permitted to organize two pilgrims’ rallies, the first in Medina and the second in Mecca, in areas removed from the holy mosques in each city. A number of understandings restricted the form and content of these demonstrations. Iran’s pilgrims were not to import or display printed matter and posters of a political nature, and their slogans were to be directed only against the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Israel. Other Muslim governments and the host government were not to be criticized." Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East, page 186
  12. ^ "In 1986, in a concession to Iran’s pilgrims, Saudi authorities allowed them access to the cemetery itself, and Khomeini’s representative to the pilgrimage formally thanked Saudi King Fahd for permitting the return of Shi‘ite pilgrims to the venerated site." Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East
  13. ^ "Hashemi has been accused of sending explosives into Saudi Arabia on a charter airplane full of pilgrims to the Moslem shrines at Mecca" Orlando Sentinel
  14. ^ "All we ask is that the Saudi government not oppose this, nor send its guards to the Great Mosque. Let us see what happens. We will try it for one year" Middle East contemporary survey, Volume 11, page 172
  15. ^ "Prominence in the 1980s" PBS.
  16. ^ "Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East". google.com. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  17. ^ From Beirut to Jerusalem Thomas L. Friedman – 1990 – 541 pages – Snippet view
  18. ^ "Apparently, some within the crowd of Iranian pilgrims chose this moment to echo Khoiniha’s provocative demand, and called upon the marchers to continue to the Great Mosque. At the same time (or perhaps even earlier), unidentified persons in an adjacent parking garage began to pelt the Iranian demonstrators with bricks, pieces of concrete, and iron bars." Religious radicalism and politics in the Middle East, page 189.
  19. ^ K. McLachlan, Iran and the Continuing Crisis in the Persian Gulf. GeoJournal, Vol.28, Issue 3, Nov. 1992, p.359; also, "400 Die as Iranian Marchers Battle Saudi Police in Mecca; Embassies Smashed in Tehran", New York Times, 8/2/87
  20. ^ "...Bandar said had been shown in full on Saudi television and made available to other governments, shows that "not one bullet was fired" by Saudi security forces ... Iran contends that Saudi security forces fired without provocation on Iranian pilgrims demonstrating peacefully against the United States, the Soviet Union and Israel." Los Angelos Times, August 07, 1987: Saudis Report Broad Support for Mecca Policy : Envoy Says Heads of 40 Nations Hail Tough Stand Against Iranian Rioters
  21. ^ "A spontaneous demonstration in Tehran on 1 August ended in attacks on the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies." The longest war: the Iran-Iraq military conflict, page 225
  22. ^ "Khomeini called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family to avenge the pilgrims' deaths" Saudi Arabia A Country Study, page 271
  23. ^ "Saudis Report Broad Support for Mecca Policy : Envoy Says Heads of 40 Nations Hail Tough Stand Against Iranian Rioters". latimes. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  24. ^ Robert Owen Freedman p156
  25. ^ In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade by Robin Wright, p166
  26. ^ Kramer, Martin Seth (2011). "The Three-Year Boycott". Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East. Transaction Publishers. p. 176. ISBN 1412817390.
  27. ^ Kramer, Martin Seth (2011). "An Understanding Renewed?". Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East. Transaction Publishers. p. 178. ISBN 1412817390.
  28. ^ Christophe Jaffrelot (12 April 2016). Pakistan at the Crossroads: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures. Columbia University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-231-54025-4.

External links

2011 alleged Iran assassination plot

On 11 October 2011, United States officials alleged there was a plot tied to the Iranian government to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in the United States. The plot was referred to as the "Iran assassination plot" or the "Iran terror plot" in the media, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the case "Operation Red Coalition". Iranian nationals Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri were charged on 11 October 2011 in federal court in New York with plotting to assassinate Al-Jubeir. According to U.S. officials, the two planned to kill Al-Jubeir at a restaurant with a bomb and subsequently bomb the Saudi embassy and the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. Bombings in Buenos Aires were also discussed. Arbabsiar was arrested on 29 September 2011 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while Shakuri remained at large. On 24 October 2011, Arbabsiar pleaded not guilty. In May 2013, after pleading guilty, Arbabsiar was sentenced to 25-years imprisonment.The extent of the Iranian government's involvement has been questioned by a variety of commentators.

2015 Mina stampede

On 24 September 2015 an event described as a "crush and stampede" caused deaths estimated at well over 2,000 pilgrims, suffocated or crushed during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The high number of deaths caused by the disaster make it the deadliest Hajj disaster in history. Estimates of the number of dead vary; the Associated Press reported 2,411 dead, while Agence France-Presse reported 2,236 killed. Based on the total of the individual national reports cited in the table below (nationalities of victims), at least 2,431 people died. The government of Saudi Arabia officially reported two days after the event that there had been 769 deaths and 934 injured. These figures remained official at the time of the following year's hajj and were never updated. The largest number of victims was from Iran, followed by Mali and Nigeria.The crush took place in Mina at the intersection of streets 204 and 223 leading up to Jamaraat Bridge. The cause of the disaster remains in dispute. The Mina disaster inflamed tensions between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which were already elevated due to the wider turmoil in the Middle East, such as the Syrian Civil War and Yemeni Civil War. In a press conference held on the day of the incident, Saudi Ministry of Interior spokesman Mansour Al-Turki attempted to address most issues regarding the incident. He said in September 2015 that an investigation was ongoing, and that the exact cause of the overcrowding that led to the deadly crush had not yet been ascertained.

2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran

The 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran was a mob action on 2 January 2016 by a crowd of protesters who stormed the embassy in Tehran and another Saudi diplomatic consulate in Mashhad, ransacking offices. The embassy building was set on fire with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs. During the attacks, the police arrived and dispersed protesters from the embassy premises and extinguished the fire.The attacks were later condemned by Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. On 24 January, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i announced that around 100 people involved in the attack are in custody by the authorities.

Bahrain–Iran relations

Bahrain–Iran relations are the bilateral relations between the countries of Bahrain and Iran. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, relations between the two countries have been strained over various geopolitical issues such as the interpretations of Islam, aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world, and relations with the United States, Europe and other Western countries. In addition, Iran has been severely critical of Bahrain for hosting the United States Fifth Fleet within the Persian Gulf at the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base.

After the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were ransacked by Iranian protesters following the execution of Nimr al-Nimr, Bahrain followed Saudi Arabia's decision by severing diplomatic relations with Iran on January 4, 2016.On 16 April 2019 a court in Bahrain sentenced 139 people to prison for forming terrorist groups backed by Iran. A total of 169 were arrested.On 16 April 2019 a court in Bahrain sentenced 139 people to prison for forming terrorist groups backed by Iran. A total of 169 were arrested.

Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Tehran

The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tehran (Persian: سفارت عربستان سعودی، تهران‎) was the diplomatic mission of Saudi Arabia in Iran until January 2016. Direct bilateral diplomatic relations between the two governments were severed following the mob attack and sacking of the embassy in January 2016.

Execution of Nimr al-Nimr

Shaykh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia who was beheaded on 2 January 2016, one of 47 people executed that day for terrorism offences. Others executed included Sunnis who had been convicted of involvement in terror attacks linked to al-Qaeda which took place in 2003. News of the killings triggered international demonstrations, and condemnation by nations, supranational organisations, and human rights groups.

Iran–Pakistan relations

After Pakistan gained its independence in August 1947, Iran was the first country to recognize its sovereign status. Pakistan's relations with Iran grew strained at times due to sectarian tensions, as Pakistani Shias claimed that they were being discriminated against under the Pakistani government's Islamisation programme.Iran and Saudi Arabia used Pakistan as a battleground for their proxy sectarian war, and by the 1990s Pakistan's support for the Sunni Taliban organisation in Afghanistan became a problem for Shia Iran, which opposed a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.Nevertheless, economic and trade relations continued to expand in both absolute and relative terms, leading to the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in 1999. Both countries are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

At present, both countries are cooperating and forming alliances in a number of areas of mutual interest, such as fighting the drug trade along their common border and combating the Balochistan insurgency along their border. Iran has expressed an interest joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.Pakistan is also the only country where Iran is viewed positively as per the polls conducted by Pew Research Center. Polls have consistently shown that a very high proportion of Pakistanis view their western neighbor positively. Ayatollah Khamenei has also called for the sympathy and assistance of many Muslim nations, including Pakistan.

Iran–Qatar relations

Iran–Qatar relations refer to the bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the State of Qatar. Iran has an embassy in Doha while Qatar has an embassy in Tehran. Qatar and Iran have close ties but relations between the two countries were soured after Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran following the January 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

Both are members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Unlike fellow GCC member states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar generally refrains from criticising Iran's domestic and foreign activities. Qatar has also held several high-level meetings with Iranian officials to discuss security and economic agreements.The two countries have a close economic relationship which affects their diplomatic relations, particularly in the oil and gas industries. A big portion of Qatar's oil comes from a field that is related to Iran. Iran and Qatar jointly control the world's largest natural gas field. Qatar has 13% of the world's total proven gas reserves. Qatar is producing 650 million cubic meters of gas per day from its section of the field, and Iran is producing 430 million cubic meters of gas per day from the field. In addition to ties in the oil and natural gas arena, Iran and Qatar also cooperate in the shipping sector.

Iran–Saudi Arabia football rivalry

The Iran and Saudi Arabia national football teams are sporting rivals who have played each other since 1975.

The game has been ranked 9th in Bleacher Report's "International Football's 10 Most Politically-Charged Football Rivalries" and 8th in Goal.com's "Football's 10 Greatest International Rivalries".Iran and Saudi Arabia team have had 15 matches so far. All of their matches have been competitive and they have never played a friendly match. The first match was played on 24 August 1975, with Iran defeating Saudi Arabia 3–0.

Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict

The Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, sometimes also referred to as the Iran–Saudi Arabia Cold War, Middle East Cold War or Middle East Conflict, is the ongoing struggle for influence in the Middle East and surrounding regions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The two countries have provided varying degrees of support to opposing sides in nearby conflicts, including the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. The rivalry also extends to disputes in Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Morocco, as well as broader competition in North and East Africa, parts of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.In what has been described as a cold war, the conflict is waged on multiple levels over geopolitical, economic, and sectarian influence in pursuit of regional hegemony. American support for Saudi Arabia and its allies as well as Russian and Chinese support for Iran and its allies have drawn comparisons to the dynamics of the Cold War era, and the proxy conflict has been characterized as a front in what Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has referred to as the "New Cold War".

List of ambassadors of Saudi Arabia to Iran

The Saudi ambassador in Tehran is the official representative of the Government in Riyadh to the Government of the Iran.

Timeline of Mecca

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Diplomatic posts
Iranian relations
with GCC member states
See also

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