Haj and Saudi Arabia: An incontrovertible truth

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“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” - Winston Churchill

The incontrovertible truth is that Saudi Arabia has impressed the world and proved its efficiency, competence and professionalism in the way it has managed the Haj. Every year Saudi Arabia is faced with the challenge of dealing with millions of people who gather in one place from 164 countries for five days within an area of just a few kilometers, and every year, it succeeds in mobilizing all its resources to provide the necessary facilities to pilgrims in an extraordinary feat of organization that showcases its management skills.

Due to its experience of crowd management accumulated over many decades, and the massive projects in which the government has always shown generosity in spending for the well-being of pilgrims, Saudi Arabia has reached high levels of competence, which makes it a world model in this area. The UN representative in South Africa, Dr. Sala Yanoya, said that South Africa was able to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s experience in crowd management when it hosted the World Cup. She added that no nation organizes and manages crowds of such vast numbers annually, other than Saudi Arabia.

However, Haj season this year was different from previous years in many aspects:

First of all, the dominance of technology in the delivery of Haj services was manifested in the programs developed by Wadi Makkah Company of Umm Al-Qura University. This included the measurement of pilgrims’ satisfaction with transportation services, traffic control by electronically tracing pilgrims’ transportation buses, and live-stream technology at security operation centers. Moreover, the unified security operation center (911) received 47,000 – 57,000 calls daily in seven languages handled by over 2,000 active employees. This technology is an integral element of the massive human effort exerted in the organization of Haj.

Secondly, perfection and discipline was sought by all of the relevant Haj bodies by aiming to prevent the repetition of previous mistakes. The Central Committee for Haj drew up a comprehensive plan this year, based on last year’s field reports in addition to the reports of Haj officials, in order to meticulously avoid any problems. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said: “We moved from the routine of considering Haj as an annual habit to yearly improvement. We aim at seeing every season more improved than the one preceding it.”

Thirdly, excellent media coverage through efforts exerted by the Ministry of Haj and Umrah meant that 70 channels took part in the coverage creating an excellent global impression. Social media also played its part by globally trending #Saudi Arabia welcomes the world, in over 20 languages. Likewise, Farsi-language Haj TV was launched to stream Haj rituals and the services provided to the pilgrims for an estimated 130 million speakers of Farsi worldwide.

Fourthly, a humanitarian spirit which was best manifested in the holy places was documented by pilgrims and transmitted through media channels narrating the most beautiful stories of the ways in which pilgrims were served throughout the performance of their rituals in peace and tranquility. The security forces together served the pilgrims with care and devotion and strictness against any violation of the regulations. They deserve gratitude, appreciation and respect. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said: “The Saudi hosts dealt with the guests of Allah (the pilgrims) with a different spirit; a new spirit and an idealistic attitude.”

Finally, thanks are due to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince and to all civil, military and private sectors involved in this great success, as well as to our Kingdom, the Kingdom of decisiveness, humanity and giving. We are all at the service of the guests of Allah as it is the highest honor, blessing and source of happiness in this world and the Hereafter.

— Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin


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