Postpone Haj if you can

Updated 03 September 2014
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Postpone Haj if you can

In an unprecedented move aimed at preventing congestion and stampedes and ensuring safety of the guests of God, Saudi authorities have urged domestic and foreign pilgrims to postpone their Haj plans for this year if possible due to ongoing expansion work at Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
The call follows the government’s decision to reduce the number of foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and domestic pilgrims 50 percent this year. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh has backed the measure, saying it was taken in public interest.
In a series of announcements through the Holy Qur’an television channel, which is aired from Makkah, the government advised pilgrims intending to perform Haj and Umrah this year to postpone their plans to reduce congestion at the Grand Mosque.
“By making this announcement our government is not preventing anybody from Haj, but asking them to postpone in order to avoid congestion and help first-time Hajis to perform their religious duties without difficulties,” Saeed Al-Qurashi, a member of the Haj & Umrah Committee at Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
He said the mataf (the circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) could hold now only 39,000 faithful per hour, suggesting an influx of a large number of pilgrims could cause congestion inside the mosque.
“Once the mataf expansion is completed, it can accommodate more than 130,000 pilgrims per hour. So, it would be better for our brethren to come for Haj next year or after two years, when they will be able to perform their rituals with ease,” he explained.
Hatem Qadi, deputy Haj minister and spokesman of the ministry, emphasized the need for reducing the number of foreign and domestic pilgrims this year.
“The period for cutting the number of pilgrims will not exceed two years,” he said. The ongoing expansion work at the two holy mosques are aimed at accommodating more pilgrims in the coming years, he pointed out.
Qadi cited the grand mufti’s statement on the issue saying the government took the decision because it was essential. “The ongoing expansion is for the benefit of pilgrims,” the mufti said.
Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh, Indian consul for Haj, said his country would send more than 170,000 pilgrims this year. “We have been informed about the government’s plan to cut the number of foreign pilgrims by 20 percent,” he told Arab News.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will patronize the launch of the Qiddiya Project

Updated 52 min 5 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will patronize the launch of the Qiddiya Project

  • Qiddiya Project is the new entertainment, sports and cultural destination in the Kingdom
  • The first phase will be completed by 2022

RIYADH: Saudi King Salman will launch the construction of an “entertainment city” near Riyadh Wednesday, authorities said, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects as the Kingdom seeks to diversity its oil-reliant economy.
The 334-square kilometer project in Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh, would rival Walt Disney and include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari park, officials say.
The facility highlights a “relentless effort to develop giga-projects that will help achieve many direct and indirect economic returns,” project official Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi was quoted as saying in a government statement on Monday.
Qiddiya chief executive Michael Reininger said he expects the project will draw foreign investors in entertainment and other sectors, but did not specify the total cost of construction.
Such projects are the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a self-styled liberal change agent who is the chief architect of the sweeping “Vision 2030” reform program.
Saudi Arabia has dazzled investors with several plans for hi-tech “giga projects,” funded in part by its sovereign wealth fund, but some skeptics question their viability in an era of cheap oil.
The Kingdom has unveiled blueprints to build NEOM, a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley, in addition to the Red Sea project, a reef-fringed resort destination — both worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Analysts say the projects could create funding pressures at a time when the government faces a yawning budget deficit and growth in the Kingdom’s non-oil economy is only slowly gathering pace.
The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the Kingdom has been reeling from an oil slump since 2014.
Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighboring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain.
In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.