‘Saudi state did not fail’ after hundreds die during haj, says official (2024)

‘Saudi state did not fail’ after hundreds die during haj, says official (1)

RIYADH – A senior Saudi official defended the Gulf kingdom’s management of the haj pilgrimage on June 21, after various countries reported more than 1,100 deaths in total, many attributed to high heat.

“The state did not fail, but there was a misjudgment on the part of people who did not appreciate the risks,” the official told AFP, in the government’s first comments on the deaths.

An AFP tally on June 21, compiling official statements and reports from diplomats involved in the response, put the toll at 1,126, more than half of them from Egypt.

The senior Saudi official said the Saudi government had confirmed 577 deaths for the two busiest days of the haj: June 15, when pilgrims gathered for hours of prayers in the blazing sun on Mount Arafat, and June 16, when they participated in the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina.

“This happened amid difficult weather conditions and a very harsh temperature,” the official said, while acknowledging that the 577 figure was partial and did not cover all of the haj, which formally ended on June 19.

The haj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims with the means must complete it at least once before they die.

Saudi officials had earlier said that 1.8 million pilgrims took part in 2024, a similar total to 2023, and that 1.6 million came from abroad.

Permitless pilgrims

Haj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals via a lottery.

Even for those who can obtain them, the steep costs spur many pilgrims to attempt the haj without a permit, though they risk arrest and deportation if caught by Saudi security forces.

The irregular route, which can save pilgrims thousands of dollars, has become increasingly popular since 2019 when Saudi Arabia introduced a general tourism visa, making it easier to enter the Gulf kingdom.

Before the 2024 haj, Saudi officials said they had cleared more than 300,000 would-be pilgrims from Mecca who did not have haj permits.

But later, the senior Saudi official said on June 21, “an order came from above that we allow people who arrived at the gates of the holy places” to participate.

“We can estimate the number of the unregistered pilgrims at around 400,000,” the official said.

“Almost all of them from one nationality,” the official added, an apparent reference to Egypt.

Remote video URL

More On This Topic

‘Bodies on the ground’: Pilgrims recount haj heat horrors

No casualties among S’porean haj pilgrims amid deadly heatwave in Mecca

Arab diplomats told AFP earlier this week that Egyptians accounted for 658 deaths, 630 of them unregistered pilgrims.

Scorching temperatures

The haj, whose timing is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, fell again in 2024 during the scorching Saudi summer.

Temperatures reached 51.8 deg C at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 17, according to the national meteorological centre.

Unregistered pilgrims did not have access to amenities meant to make the pilgrimage more bearable, including air-conditioned tents.

Unregistered Egyptian pilgrims told AFP this week that in some cases they struggled to access hospitals or hail ambulances for loved ones, some of whom ended up dying.

The pilgrims also said they could not access official haj buses – the only transport around the holy sites – without paying exorbitant, off-the-books fees.

Forced to walk for many kilometres under the blazing sun, some reported seeing motionless bodies on the roadside and pilgrims collapsing, apparently because of exhaustion.

The senior Saudi official told AFP on June 21 that there was no blanket ban on unregistered pilgrims using the buses.

“There is no ban on them using the buses, but these buses are prepared for the registered pilgrims that we know are coming,” the official said.

The unregistered pilgrims “walk along bus routes that are not set up with food or medical services like ambulances. It’s a highway for the buses”. AFP

More On This Topic

More than 1,000 haj pilgrims die in Mecca as mercury hits 51.8 deg C

Climate change threat hangs over haj pilgrimage as hundreds perish in heat

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Haj
  • Islam
‘Saudi state did not fail’ after hundreds die during haj, says official (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. Nancy Dach

Last Updated:

Views: 5437

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. Nancy Dach

Birthday: 1993-08-23

Address: 569 Waelchi Ports, South Blainebury, LA 11589

Phone: +9958996486049

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Web surfing, Scuba diving, Mountaineering, Writing, Sailing, Dance, Blacksmithing

Introduction: My name is Prof. Nancy Dach, I am a lively, joyous, courageous, lovely, tender, charming, open person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.