Curtailed hajj compounds Saudi Arabia economic woes

Curtailed hajj compounds Saudi Arabia economic woes

RIYADH: Vacant religious sites. Abandoned pilgrim tents. Lifeless hotels. A stunning emptiness — and fears of economic ruin — haunt the usually bustling city of Mecca after Saudi authorities curtailed the hajj pilgrimage over coronavirus.
Islam’s holiest city usually hosts millions of pilgrims for the annual rite, but the kingdom has barred overseas visitors from this year’s event, scheduled for late July.
The hajj and the lesser umrah pilgrimage together rake in some $12 billion, keeping the economy humming in Mecca, home to two million people and marble-bedecked skyscrapers towering over Islam’s most sacred sites.
A construction boom in recent years has added shopping malls, apartments and luxury hotels, some offering spectacular views of the sacred Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray.
But most premises have lain empty since the pandemic reached the kingdom.
The virus, which hit Mecca hard, has also battered pilgrimage-reliant businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs, from travel agents to street barbers and souvenir shops.
Many have reported sweeping layoffs, pay cuts or delayed salaries.
“Zero sales, zero income,” said Ahmed Attia, a 39-year-old Egyptian who works for a travel agency in the city.
“We’re not used to seeing Mecca empty. It feels like a dead city. It’s devastating for Mecca.”
A tsunami of cancellations has also battered overseas hajj operators who organise travel logistics for pilgrims, many of whom invest their life savings in the five-day ritual.
Saudi authorities had already in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time.
Then, in a hugely sensitive but long-awaited decision, they said they would only allow around 1,000 pilgrims already present in the kingdom to perform the hajj.
That is a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims who attended last year.
—Agencies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.