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Thursday Mass Deaths: Mecca Needs a New Guardian

26 September 2015 10:01


Iran is observing three days of mourning following the deaths of some 2,000 Hajj pilgrims in Mecca, including 131 Iranian nationals.
Offering condolences to the bereaved families on Thursday, September 24, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said, “The Saudi government is obligated to shoulder its heavy responsibility in this bitter incident and meet its obligations in compliance with the rule of righteousness and fairness.

Mismanagement and improper measures that were behind this tragedy should not be overlooked.”

Strange enough, Riyadh refuses to take any responsibility for the tragedy, which has created a “great grief” in the Islamic world. The Saudi civil defense directorate claims pilgrims caused the crush; that there is no indication authorities are to blame; and that it happened due to extreme heat and exhaustion on the part of some “noncompliant” and “inexperienced” pilgrims.

It’s all a big lie. A casual stroll through the chain of events and facts offers ample evidence why Saudi authorities are behaving like fools:

* Safety and security are indispensible condition for travel and tourism worldwide – for recreation, leisure, religious, family or business purposes. Already overshadowed by the crane accident that killed at least 108 people and injured more than 238 on September 11, this year’s Hajj season has been a complete failure for the House of Saud. Tellingly, they failed to provide a safe and secure environment for pilgrims at the national and local levels.

* The disaster at Mina started after security forces deliberately blocked two of the main routes to accommodate a convoy of Saudi government dignitaries as pilgrims were walking towards the final ritual of ‘Stoning the Devil’. Eyewitnesses and survivors say this deadly mistake plus the speeding convoy of Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud created a bottleneck that led to the crowd crush on Route 204. Predictably, the ruler of Mecca has distanced himself from the criminal case, stressing the King should decide the issue.

* Official conducts and incidents as such are the result of rivalries between the police, security service, and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Power struggle and political rivalries are tough and deep among different royal families who are all descendant of the Al Saud. They always try to undermine each other’s authority as they see themselves entitled to the crown.

* The Saudi government refuses to identify and acknowledge the factors – safety errors, poor management, and security personnel shortage – that caused the crowd crush. Under international travel and tourism law, the consequences of this criminal negligence fall upon Riyadh. Lest they forget, most of the Saudi security forces are in Yemen, fighting an open-ended war against Ansarullah…

Some two million people take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which all able-bodied Muslims are required to undertake at least once in their lives. A vast majority of these people are not from Saudi Arabia, and they are not able to exert any pressure on Riyadh to improve crowd control and public safety.

The Thursday mass deaths plus the slow and inadequate response to the emergency situation have led to growing criticisms from the public and Muslim states officials. They believe the House of Saud is unable to channel and protect one of the world’s largest regular human migrations. To quote them: Muslim leaders, elites, and politicians should demand the change of authority in charge of running the annual Hajj pilgrimage from the House of Saud to a collection of Muslim states. It’s the only way to stop similar horrors from ever happening again.

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