Hoping to prevent a repeat of last year’s deadly haj disaster, Saudi Arabia is focusing on crowd management ahead of this week’s pilgrimage. Medical workers, security staff, and civil servants have been performing emergency drills and the kingdom reports that efforts are being made to include planning with haj missions from pilgrims’ home countries. Officials hope that by coordinating communication, pilgrims will observe stated schedules and the Grand Mosque has installed hundreds of new surveillance cameras to keep an eye on proceedings.
Mecca, Islam’s most holy city, will be home to two million worshipers during the pilgrimage, but worries about militant violence are casting a shadow on the proceedings; a suicide bomber in Medina killed four soldiers earlier this summer and the sheer number of people entering the city makes policing difficult. Electronic bracelets will be fitted on pilgrims in an attempt to more accurately judge crowd flow and anticipate problem areas.
Iran, who lost over 400 citizens in the haj disaster last year, has been sharply critical of the kingdom’s organization of the pilgrimage. The official Saudi inquiry has not yet been released, but authorities seem to be focused on the pilgrims themselves and blame the crowd for not following rules. Riyadh claims less than 800 people died, but fatality counts by country indicate that the number is closer to 2000.
Saudi Arabia has said that no attempts to politicize haj will be tolerated; many believe this is directed at Iran. Iran has already stated that its pilgrims would not attend, but the kingdom is worried that pro-Iranian pilgrims could upset the proceedings by spreading anti-Saudi messages.
Information from Religious News Service