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Last year's disaster offers Saudis excuse to clamp down on hajj

The Saudi Interior Ministry is doing everything it can to keep this year's hajj season tragedy-free — including, conveniently, shutting out Iranian pilgrims over visa problems.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is preparing to assure this year's hajj season of pilgrimage to Mecca is safe and not marred by a repeat of last year's bloody stampede. As Iran is a major source of Saudi concerns about hajj security, Riyadh is shutting out Iranians in a move that also suits its efforts to delegitimize Tehran.

The crown prince is also the Saudi interior minister and responsible for security during the hajj. Last September's stampede, in which over 2,200 people died, severely embarrassed the kingdom in general and the prince in particular. The Saudis insist the number of fatalities was much lower. The Wahhabi clerical establishment specifically exonerated the crown prince of any responsibility, arguing the stampede was an accident beyond human control. Some rumors about what really happened point fingers at royal family members seeking special favors, but nothing has been proven.

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