After more than eight years, Iranians will visit Saudi Arabia’s holiest sites starting on December 19, according to Iranian state media. This marks an important step in improving relations between Shia-majority Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.
Flights will depart from 10 airports in Iran, carrying people on the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, a holy city in Saudi Arabia, as reported by the semi-official Fars news agency. The first group of Iranian Umrah pilgrims is scheduled to leave on December 19.
Fars estimates that up to 70,000 Iranian pilgrims will travel to Saudi Arabia by the end of February 2024.
Since 2016, Iranian pilgrims have been limited to the hajj pilgrimage, a religious obligation for Muslims that has strict quotas and specific timings. Now, Iranians have the opportunity to perform Umrah as well, a non-compulsory pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year.
Ongoing negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia also aim to reopen non-religious tourism, including flights connecting Riyadh and Tehran.
In March 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic ties after seven years of strained relations. The agreement involved reopening embassies and missions in each other’s cities, reshaping the geopolitical landscape in a region where the United States has been involved in conflicts and spent significant resources providing security for its allies.