Press TV has conducted an interview with Jamal Wakim, professor at Lebanese International University in Beirut, to discuss the increasing death toll in the deadly tragedy during Hajj rituals in Mina near the Saudi city of Mecca.
What follows is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: First of all, I would like to get your opinion on why Saudi Arabia continues to insist upon that original death toll that it gave of 769?
Wakim: I believe that this is to undermine the magnitude of the disaster in Mina especially that the toll of the victims is the highest in the history of Hajj accidents, if we compare it to the previous accidents, and of course the Saudi authorities are the ones to be held responsible because they are the ones to insist on exclusive organization of the Hajj season.
So that is why I believe that they are trying to undermine the disaster by trying to insist on the original figures that were declared which are 767, something like that.
Press TV: We do know that a fact-finding mission or a delegation from Iran that wanted to go to Saudi Arabia was denied visas by the Saudi authorities. Why do you think Saudi Arabia is not forthcoming and more cooperative with those countries that do want to get at the bottom of what happened?
Wakim: I believe that the Saudis are very embarrassed and they fear a reaction by countries like Iran, like Turkey, but mainly like Iran because they are trying to buy off some other countries whose nationals were victims of the incident in Mina, while Iran insists on knowing the reasons for the accident and on getting the bodies of the Iranian victims back to Iran, whereas other countries would accept the Saudi offer to bury their nationals on Saudi territory.
So Iran has been the most outspoken of all countries in trying to get to know what happened in Mina, and Saudis, especially with this longstanding history of Saudi hostility towards Iran, are trying to avoid a conflict with Iran for the time being, especially that they are entangled in several crises whether in Syria or a direct military intervention in Yemen. So all these factors make the Saudis [feel] embarrassed especially towards Iran.
Press TV: Now many are looking towards the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place a form of a leadership role as far as getting to the bottom of what took place in Mina and holding those responsible accountable. Do you see the OIC standing up to this challenge?
Wakim: I do not think so for several reasons. First and foremost is the fact that OIC is very much influenced by Saudi policies, especially with regards to the Hajj season. Second, the Saudis, I believe that they do not want to unveil the true responsible for the incident especially that usually it involves high-ranking officials and Saudi princes. And I do not believe that the Saudi authorities will make any prince responsible or appear responsible for what happened in Mina.
There are conflicts and contradictions between various Islamic countries, so we do not have a unified position towards this, and I do not believe that the Saudi authorities would accept tutelage by OIC especially that the Hajj season is a major source of income for the Saudi state.