Vision 2030: Haj services among KSA’s top priorities

Vision 2030 also calls for strategic development of the holy sites’. (AN photo by Khder Zahrani)
Updated 28 August 2016

Vision 2030: Haj services among KSA’s top priorities

JEDDAH: Developing Haj and Umrah organizations and services in the Kingdom is among the top priorities of the Saudi government and an extension of the country’s historic role in serving Muslims and Islam.

Vision 2030 includes a strategic and comprehensive plan to develop the sector so as to allow the largest number of Muslims possible to perform Haj and Umrah.
The media center of the Ministry and Haj and Umrah confirmed in a report on Friday, according to SPA, that the plan stems from the Kingdom’s recurring success and management of the largest Umrah season, allowing nearly 6.5 million pilgrims from around the world to perform their religious duties.
The Kingdom also carried out the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in Islamic history so as to gradually increase the capacity annually. The plan, as per the Vision, includes building the capacity to 30 million pilgrims and Umrah visitors in the coming years.
Vision 2030 also calls for strategic development of the holy sites’ facilities and services, as well as development of a train network for the holy sites, housing projects and tents for pilgrims, completion of the expansion project, establishment of large airports to receive more guests, and providing active security management to protect pilgrims in view of terrorism challenges and threats.
The report also points to expanding health and medical services for pilgrims by preparing hospitals and health centers to provide top-of-the-line services around the clock, in addition to sewage, cleanliness, and lighting services at the holy sites and the Jamarat Bridge.
According to Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Bentin, the administration is witnessing a dramatic transformation in the areas of better planning and enhanced coordination between concerned agencies.
There is also a shift away from seasonal work to a year-long work system and culture, in order to enhance services and meet Vision 2030 objectives.
During the Council of Ministers’ session on Monday, 11-11-1437 AH, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salam welcomed guests of the two holy cities and directed all concerned agencies to exert all efforts to facilitate the Haj for pilgrims.
To that effect, the Ministry of Haj and Umrah launched a series of initiatives and services to welcome pilgrims to the Kingdom, alongside services for pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah, to ensure they perform the Haj smoothly and remain safe.
Eighteen Saudi transpiration companies have secured 18,000 fully equipped buses to transport 1.4 million pilgrims from outside the Kingdom successfully during the Haj season this year, the report revealed. Fleets of buses are updated annually to ensure the safety of pilgrims as they move between cities, and this year, 1,696 buses are new or were provided only last year. To operate and transport pilgrims, 24,000 young Saudi bus drivers and technicians have been hired to operate these buses.
The Ministry of Haj and Umrah also updated its electronic Haj portal to speed up electronic issuance of visas and reduce procedural waiting and entrance times to a mere few minutes.
The report also revealed that the ministry, for the first time this year, applied the electronic bracelet system for pilgrims, in order to speed up identification processes and electronically read all related information, especially for those who do not speak Arabic.
The system allows the ministry to read personal identification information stored on the bracelet to guide those who are lost, shorten procedure times, and allow for transparency of information.
All Haj affairs offices around the world have been instructed to provide information on pilgrims before their arrival at ports, and information about visas, passports, a photo, service providers, and other personal information are stored on the bracelets.

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

Updated 21 March 2019

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

  • n an exclusive interview for Mother’s Day in the Arab world, the woman who paved the way for a new generation of Saudi women shares her life lessons
  • ‘Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world,’ she advises

RIYADH: The first Saudi to head a UN agency, the first Saudi female to graduate from a US university on a government scholarship, one of 30 women to be appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time, one of 100 notable “Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture,” and editor of “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.” These are just a few achievements on the remarkable CV of Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. 

For years she politely declined media requests for interviews, saying it was time for the next generation to take the spotlight. But after a year of attempts by Arab News, she finally granted the newspaper an interview. 


As the Arab world marks Mother’s Day on March 21, Arab News decided it was a good occasion to sit down with Obaid, a mother of two girls, because she has been a role model to so many young Saudi women.


She has been an advocate for women’s rights worldwide, most notably as under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) from 2001 to 2010. 

But what most people do not know is how humble she is. “Please don’t call me Dr. Thoraya, call me auntie,” she said in a soft voice.

Early beginnings 

“I was 7 when I left for Cairo (to study at a boarding school). There were no girls’ schools in Saudi Arabia at the time, in September 1951, and my father had the same principles for his sons and daughter. He followed our Islamic teaching that advocated education for all,” she said.

“I started crying when he took me to the school in Cairo and told the teacher to take me away.”

Years later, she asked her father how he felt at that time. He told her: “I felt that if I let my fatherly emotions take over, I’d have bundled you up and taken you away.” 

But he decided against it, realizing that this moment would make or break her future, and he wanted to empower her through education.  

That moment, Obaid said, helped her cope anywhere in the world. 

She learned to make a new family through bonds with other students and teachers at the boarding school. 

She went on to get a PhD in English literature, with a minor in cultural anthropology, from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“My generation was focused on education,” she said. “You learn that education isn’t only for you, but also for you to serve others.” 

Working life

Obaid has lived and worked most of her life outside her country, in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the US. 

During her time with the UN, she travelled the world. After her meetings in various countries, she would insist on going to villages and poor urban areas where the UNFPA supported government projects, so she could meet the people there. 

“These are the real people that must be empowered to change their own lives, not the ones we meet in the ministries,” she said. “Unless you go and see the poor, the sick and the very basic human rights violations, you won’t know what the country is about, especially if you’re stuck in nice hotels.” 

Even though she sought to visit these impoverished areas, heart-wrenching scenes would always get to her. At the UN they called her the “crying executive director,” but she was not ashamed of her tears. 

In one African country, while checking maternal programs in the village, she encountered a sickly woman who was thrown out of her home by her husband. She told her story to Obaid, both of them with tears streaming down their cheeks. 

In South Africa, she visited the cell in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years. The guides were all former political prisoners, who said they kept the prison open in order to demonstrate that apartheid should not exist anymore. As she cried silently, she told them: “You know, there’s another apartheid happening again, in Palestine.” 

Life lessons

Obaid’s experiences taught her much about life. When it comes to family, she had this advice: “For young girls in families, don’t ask for everything and at the same time. Be selective, and have a strategic goal that you want to achieve in your life; focus on that.”

She said: “My most important request was going to university, a goal that’s now taken for granted by the young generation. So I tell girls to have a strategic objective in life. If you work toward it and achieve it, it will change your life.”

She advises daughters not to be inflexible with parents regarding their demands. “When you grow up, you’ll realize the issues weren’t worth it,” she said. “It’s even more obvious when you become a parent yourself.” 

Obaid, who worked hard to realize her dreams, added: “We, as human beings, don’t have unlimited energy, so direct your energy to what will make a difference in your life.” 

As for being Saudi, she said there is no place like home, adding: “I’ve lived 58 years out of my country and returned voluntarily. I’ve never really felt home except in my home, Saudi Arabia, with all its frustrations and complications.” 

It never crossed her mind to get another passport or residency permit, she said. “I learned that one’s dignity lies in their homeland. Wherever you go and however long you stay, you’ll always feel like an outsider. Even if you integrate in the community, you’re still an outsider,” she added. 

When asked what advice she would give youths, she said: “Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world.”