The Saudis’ real ‘sin’ (l)

Daily Trust - - OPIN­ION - Opin­ion@dai­lytrust.com

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.

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