The Jordanian Hajj bus blues

Muslim worshippers pray outside the Grand Mosque in Makkah on Sunday, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP)
Updated 28 August 2017

The Jordanian Hajj bus blues

AMMAN: Jordanian tour operator Khalil Qatawi has a problem. His company, which operates Hajj and Umrah tours to Saudi Arabia, cannot find qualified tour buses.
Most Jordanians use buses to fulfill their pilgrimage ritual and there are only 600 qualified tour buses that are not older than 2010. “On the one hand, the government insists and we want to have modern buses but at the same time, there simply are not enough buses,” Qatawi told Arab News.
The Jordanian government this year has implemented stricter conditions on the use of older buses, making it even more difficult for the tour companies. An accident near the southern Jordanian city of Tafileh on June 26 of a returning Umrah group left six dead and 38 injured. Because the accident was due to an inferior bus, Jordanian transport officials have tried to regulate the route. Buses must now undergo technical inspections before being allowed to carry pilgrims to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, therefore leaving even fewer qualified buses available.
Before the Syrian crisis, tourist companies did not mind buying new buses because they could use them for travel to Syria and Lebanon when they were not being used for Hajj and Umrah. “With the borders closed, it makes little sense for companies to buy new buses just for travel to Saudi Arabia,” he complained. A new European made bus runs as much as $250,000 while a Chinese bus can be purchased for $100,000, but even the inferior Chinese buses were not feasible because of the lack of work during the rest of the year.
Tour companies have suggested renting buses from Saudi Arabia, but that was not allowed. “Apparently, as part of the Saudi-Jordanian agreement, we are only allowed to use Jordanian buses,” he said. Qatawi is OK with the policy of giving priority to Jordanian buses, but what do they do when there are not enough buses? “We have had to break the law and pay the 250 Jordanian dinar fine or use inferior buses.
Nearly 7,500 Jordanians go on Hajj annually. Of those, 1,000 pay the 650 Jordanian dinar ($970) price for the round-trip ticket while another 800-1000 drive by public taxis and vans, while a similar number drive with their own cars. Jordanian transportation officials estimate that 4,700 pilgrims need to use the buses for the Hajj period. The average cost of the buses is between 170-220 Jordanian dinar depending on the state of the bus. The fees are higher for the newer buses.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Jordan handles the travel of Palestinian pilgrims from the West Bank, as well as those from Israel. The Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs issues temporary passports to what it called “Arabs of 1948” in order to allow them to carry out the Hajj rituals. Palestinians from Gaza use Egyptian transport to reach the holy places in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Abu Hashish recently traveled to carry out the Hajj. While the bus he was on was in good shape, he complained to Arab News about the long wait at the Saudi border and the conditions of the hotels in Makkah. “We waited nearly 12 hours at the border crossing as the Saudi authorities carried out the iris scan, and did the normal passport inspections.
The main reason for the delay was the large number of buses all waiting to be processed; there were some 50 buses waiting in line,” he told Arab News. Abu Hashish also complained about the overcrowded hotels that his group was placed in. “We had six beds cramped in a small 4 x 4-meter room in a hotel that took 2,500 people,” he said. The average cost of transportation and accommodations in the holy places during the Hajj period is nearly 2,000 Jordanian dinar.
While the transport and accommodation problems exist for the Hajj season, many of those involved in the religious tourism business told Arab News that greater problems exist during the Umrah period where many of the regulations and oversights are relaxed, causing a dangerous situation. “Assistant drivers are not included during the Umrah and many tour agencies let their driver drop off the faithful and return to Jordan so that they can make money on their buses rather than have them wait idly in Saudi Arabia,” said Qatawi.

Prince Turki: Purveyors of terror not from one religion

Updated 21 min 32 sec ago

Prince Turki: Purveyors of terror not from one religion

  • Saudi Arabia’s former diplomat commends Arab News for ‘Preachers of Hate’ project
  • The campaign, in print and online, analyzes the words and deeds of extremist preachers and clerics from all religions and nationalities, places them in context, and explains how they fuel terrorism

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the US and UK, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, has praised the weekly “Preachers of Hate” project that Arab News launched online and in print on Sunday.

“I think this is something that Arab News has stood for since its establishment more than 40 years ago,” he told the newspaper with regard to the project, which highlights extremists from various religions who incite hatred and spread terror worldwide.

“So I congratulate us, as readers of this service that Arab News is providing us. 

“Exposing the purveyors of hate, whoever they may be, is an essential part of combatting terrorism and hate speech. So good luck.”

Prince Turki said the recent terrorist attacks against peaceful worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were a “horrific crime” perpetrated by a hateful purveyor of bias and prejudice.

He added that the murderer is a “perfect example of what we’re combatting in the Kingdom. 

“The efforts of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, and his Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, emphasize the need to stand up to these hateful criminals who distort the teachings of religion. 

“Unfortunately, these purveyors of mayhem, destruction and terrorism come from all religious and philosophical backgrounds.”

When asked by Arab News whether Daesh was truly defeated, Prince Turki said: “I don’t know.” 

He added that Saudi Arabia succeeded in combatting Al-Qaeda, yet from that group came Daesh, which he referred to as “fahish,” which means obscene in Arabic.

“Now we see claims of the eradication of fahish. What will follow we will have to wait and see,” he said.

“But if you look at some geographical areas — from the Philippines through to Afghanistan, Indonesia, all the way to North Africa and some of the Sahel countries in Africa — there are still those who are carrying the flag of fahish. 

“So maybe in Syria and Iraq there has been success in removing fahish from the scene, but it exists in other places.”