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Malek Helali
THE reoccurrence of last year's scenario of preventing Qatar's citizens and residents from performing the Islamic ritual of Umrah pilgrimage during the upcoming Holy Month of Ramadan is more likely in light of the continuing Saudi-led blockade.
With less than two months until the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslim pilgrims residing in Qatar are still unaware of the procedures required for them to perform their religious pilgrimage duties since the Saudi government has not yet revealed any intentions of facilitating their access to the Holy City of Mecca.
The National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) had earlier issued a statement on the difficulties faced by residents and citizens of the State in performing Umrah, highlighting the committee's deep concerns regarding the Saudi authorities' persistent restrictions of Muslims' right to perform religious rituals. The NHRC statement urged competent Saudi authorities not to use religious rites as a political leverage flagrantly violating international human rights conventions. This came after the land, air and sea blockade on Qatar was responsible for the cancellations of 95 percent of Umrah trips in 2017 with no arrangements as promised by Saudi authorities, according to Hajj and Umrah travel groups in Qatar.
Speaking to Qatar Tribune, a number of travel agencies that used to offer Umrah packages from Qatar to Saudi Arabia noted that they were unable to continue offering these packages since they have failed to obtain travel visas for the pilgrims owing to the closure of the Saudi embassy in Qatar. A travel agent said that the agency cannot offer alternative routes for travelling to Saudi Arabia through other countries such as Oman and Kuwait because"the pilgrims would still be unable to obtain entry visas from Qatar".
According to a recent report, the government of Saudi Arabia has blocked the electronic registration for Qatar's pilgrims in contrast to all other countries of the world. The report also indicates that Saudi pilgrimage authorities have frozen their communication with Qatar's Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf) and Islamic Affairs. The Saudi embassy and consulate in Qatar had also been closed which implies that Hajj and Umrah procedures cannot be performed from Qatar, according to the report.
Furthermore, the online portal of Qatar's Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf) and Islamic Affairs allowing the electronic registration for pilgrimage indicates that registration is currently not possible for Qataris as well as expatriates.
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