Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

At the dawn of the first day of Eid Al-Adha — the third day of Hajj — hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walked together to Jamarat Al-Aqaba in Mina. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
Updated 11 August 2019

Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

  • ‘90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path’

AMMAN: For three years, Dr. Emad Abu Safieh has been filling out online Hajj applications. Every year he fills out two: One for his father Ahmad and his mother Shukrieh, and another for his 71-year old uncle Yousef. 

Safieh, 44, a university professor and dean of the business department at the Arab Open University in Amman, told Arab News that he was happy to help with the posting of Hajj request for his older relatives.

“The site is easy to use; after filling out the details, including contacts and a secondary phone number, a confirmation message is sent to both the basic phone number and the alternative one. Hajj digitalization is happening now and it works well.”

Safieh’s hope to accompany his father did not materialize this year, as only his uncle’s application was accepted. “But at least my dad will go as his companion, and he will also be accompanied by my mother,” Safieh said.

Hajj application digitalization covers both Saudi Arabia’s internal applications and the massive number of visa applications under the title “electronic visa path.” But while the electronic visa path is mostly connected to those wishing to travel by air, companies in countries like Jordan, where the majority of pilgrims prefer the land route, say that the digitization of the Hajj has helped them a lot.

Majdi Batoush, the lead technology officer at Jordan’s Islamic Waqf Department, told Arab News that the electronic path for the Hajj set up by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj has made life much easier for many. “In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.” 

Batoush says that nearly 90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path created by the Saudi authorities. “Once online, the data can be shared to the benefit of all relevant bodies each as is necessary for their work,” he said.

In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.

Ali Daebess has been working at the Teeba Al-Bawadi Hajj and Umrah Tourist Co. for 19 years. Speaking to Arab News, Daebess explained that the digitalization of the Hajj has made life much easier also for tour companies. “We used to photograph and scan passports five or six times, and we had a ton of paperwork. Now everything is online and much easier.” 
Daebess concedes that most pilgrims are older and are not computer or internet literate. 

“They come to our office and we upload the information for them, we do it for free and it takes a few minutes to post.” The IT specialist, whose company’s Facebook page boasts over 27,000 followers, says that social media has been helpful. “We get a lot of feedback on social media mostly from relatives of pilgrims.”

Although the digital process appears smooth these days, Hajj companies and government officials admit that things were not easy at first. “It was hard at first to adjust and the site was difficult to navigate,” Majdi told Arab News, “but now things are much easier and we are able to process many more applications in a shorter period of time.”

Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

Updated 37 min 11 sec ago

Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

  • Law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting

TUNIS: Political outsider Kais Saied was leading Tunisia’s election with just over a quarter of votes counted, the election commission said Monday, in the country’s second free presidential vote since the Arab Spring.
Saied was on 19 percent, leading imprisoned media magnate Nabil Karoui, who was on 14.9 percent, and ahead of the candidate from the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party Abdelfattah Mourou (13.1 percent).
The announcement came after both Saied and Karoui’s camp claimed to have won through to the second round, in the highly divisive polls.
Local papers splashed photos across their front pages of law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting.
“An unexpected verdict,” ran a headline in La Presse.
Le Temps titled its editorial “The Slap,” while the Arabic language Echourouk newspaper highlighted a “political earthquake” and a “tsunami” in the Maghreb.
The initial signs point toward a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It could also usher in a period of immense uncertainty for the fledgling north African democracy, the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts.
Tunisia’s electoral commission (ISIE) reported low turnout at 45 percent, down from 64 percent in the country’s first democratic polls in 2014.
Late Sunday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called on the liberal and centrist camps to band together for legislative elections set for October 6, voicing concern that low participation was “bad for the democratic transition.”
Chahed, a presidential hopeful whose popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living, could well turn out to be the election’s biggest loser.
The election comes against a backdrop of serious social and economic crises.
Karoui, a 56-year-old media magnate, has been behind bars since August 23 on charges of money laundering and Tunisia’s judiciary has refused his release three times.
A controversial businessman, labelled a “populist” by critics, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
His apparent rival is political neophyte Saied.
The highly conservative constitutionalist, known to Tunisians for his televised political commentary since the 2011 revolt, has shunned political parties and mass rallies. Instead, he has opted to go door-to-door to explain his policies.
He advocates a rigorous overhaul of the constitution and voting system, to decentralize power “so that the will of the people penetrates into central government and puts an end to corruption.”
Often surrounded by young acolytes, he also set forth his social conservatism, defending the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
“It’s going to be new,” said a baker named Said on Monday, issuing a wry smile.
“We’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, what matters in Tunisia is the parliament.”
The first round was marked by high rates of apathy among young voters, pushing ISIE head to put out an emergency call to them Sunday an hour before polls closed.
On Sunday morning, senior citizen Adil Toumi had asked as he voted in the capital “where are the young people?“
Political scientist Hamza Meddeb told AFP “this is a sign of very deep discontent with the political class that has not met economic and social expectations,“
“Disgust with the political elite seems to have resulted in a vote for outsiders.”
Distrust of the political establishment runs high in Tunisia, where unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Extremist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Around 70,000 security forces were mobilized for the polls.
The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.