The Saudis’ real ‘sin’ (l)
Considering the sheer amount of criticism against the Saudi Arabian government by its critics, and the passionate defence in its favour by its supporters over the deadly stampede at the holy site of Mina during the recently concluded Hajj where more than seven hundred pilgrims lost their lives, an unbiased observer would definitely find it difficult to arrive at a reasonable conclusion about the alleged responsibility or otherwise of the Saudi Arabian authorities for the tragedy.
This is because the assertions and counter-assertions by both the critics and the supporters are largely devoid of specific facts about the cause(s) of the catastrophe, which means that their purported arguments and counter-arguments are simply too unreasonable to constitute reasonable reasons to straightaway blame or exonerate the Saudi government. After all, while its critics are largely motivated by sheer hatred that rendered them too blindfolded to see anything positive about the country, its supporters are largely too opinionated to find anything negative about it.
In any case, unfortunately, like all Muslim governments around the world today, Saudi Arabia is in many aspects guilty of failure to live up to expectations especially considering its position as the most important Muslim country in the world. Nevertheless, blaming or absolving it of responsibility for the stampede necessarily requires objective assessment of its performance in the management of Hajj affairs in general and crowd management in particular. Factors like adequacy of space at the holy sites, sufficiency of infrastructure, facilities and service quality as well as crowd control, are particularly relevant in assessing its performance in this regard. After all, these are the major areas where government’s negligence or diligence is too obvious to elude even a casual observer.
To start with the holy sites, i.e. the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madina, Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifa and all other sites frequented by pilgrims and worshippers, it’s obvious that adequacy of space is never an issue. The two holy mosques for instance, which have always been the biggest and the second biggest mosques respectively, in the world, thanks to the regular expansion projects over the decades, are also adequately equipped with the most technologically advanced apparatus for the safety, security and convenience of the pilgrims and other worshippers. The holy mosque of Makkah in particular will have the capacity to accommodate more than two million worshippers at a time once the ongoing expansion project is completed.
The other sites, being largely in open-space areas on the outskirts of Makkah i.e. Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, are naturally adequate enough in terms of space. Yet, the holy sites and indeed all the other relevant areas in the country e.g. points of entry into the country, i.e. airports, seaports, land borders are all adequately provided with sufficient facilities. This is in addition to healthcare facilities that provide free medical services to the pilgrims, and also the massive network of roads, flyovers, tunnels and other gigantic infrastructure, which are also regularly expanded as the need arises.
Interestingly, for instance, while Nigeria with its population of about 170 million celebrates the achievement of less than five thousand megawatts of electricity, the electricity capacity of only the holy sites where less than three million pilgrims perform Hajj, is more than eighteen thousand megawatts, that is more than four times the capacity of electricity megawatts in Nigeria.
Anyway, tens of thousands of security personnel, healthcare workers, traffic controllers, pedestrian and crowd control staff, safety control inspectors, volunteers etc. are deployed all over the holy sites to provide security, safety and healthcare, and to coordinate and control vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Moreover, all essential facilities for convenient stay i.e. accommodations, and facilities for easy commuting in and around the holy sites, which include automated rail transport system are adequately available to suit various budgets. Yet, frequent pilgrims can confirm how facilities and services improve every Hajj season.
It’s nevertheless important to point out that, all these services don’t necessarily mean that the Saudi Arabian government is completely exonerated from responsibility for the deadly accident after all. However, while negligence and/or error at a particular point of coordination in crowd control can’t be ruled out as the possible cause of the incident, there was no indication of systemic inefficiency or systematic negligence in the process of the Hajj management in general.
Also, while criticism against the Saudi government over the incident is quite understandable anyway, an average unsuspecting observer probably wonders what warranted or even simply justified the persistent obviously politically motivated, systematic, carefully orchestrated and disproportionate Iranian campaign of calumny against the Saudi Arabian government in the wake of the incident.
This is particularly interesting because no sooner had the incident occurred than the Iranian propaganda outlets, e.g. the notoriously misleading Press TV channel and the other Iraniansponsored organizations and individuals around the world, began to desperately disseminate different versions of some empty assertions as the causes of the incident, which the supposedly educated though certainly confused Iranian apologists, fell for hook, line, and sinker.
To unravel Iran’s real motive behind this mischievous politicization of Mina tragedy, there is a need to put things in their right context, which necessarily entails addressing its agenda toward the Muslim world, the strategies it adopts to achieve it and indeed its ultimate ambition that it is hell-bent on achieving. However, due to space constraint I have to split this piece into two or more, as the case may be, in order to address these issues and perhaps other relevant issues also.