Sunday, 27 September 2015

Deaths in Mecca and Saudi Arabia

An aerial view of the transformation of Mecca, Kaaba and the Clock Tower hotel in Saudi Arabia that has changed Mecca from a culturally rich holy site into a mini Dubai/Las Vegas. Picture originally published by NPR News. The remaining old city is hanging on in the far right corner.

Some 2 million people make annual hajjs or pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and have been doing so for over 1000+years. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and is considered a once in a lifetime journey. The world is represented in Mecca during the three day Hajj. Many people from Africa and Asia as well as the Americas, Europe and Australia speak of being spiritually transformed by the eye opening gathering of humanity in a single area and awakening to the peace and comfort of everyone being equal in faith if for a brief time. Perhaps the Hajj is the closest thing to Nirvana. Mecca and Madina the two holiest cities in Islam which hosts millions of visitors annually has been transformed completely from its humble origins as quiet and sleepy towns in Saudi countryside. The Saudi government has been accused of cultural destruction for removing and damaging priceless artifacts, mounments and hertiage mapping the early days of Islam and Prophet Mohammed's life including his birthplace and family sites. In the rush to overly modernize the city of Mecca from an ancient pilgramage town to a Las Vegas styled Holy Land spot, Mecca's historic districts and unique cultural places have disappeared under new construction works, multistory sky scrapers and a massive hotel that literally towers over the Kaaba. The Prophet's Mosque in Madina, the Masajid al Haram and Kaaba compound has been expanded to welcome millions of pilgrams annually. The Saudi tourism industry has long anticipated an increase in pilgrams and have sought creative ways to avoid a logistical nightmare within both cities. Plans have been in the making for over a decade on the Makkah Metro to ease the congestation from the airport to the main Hajj sites.

A close up of the clock tower hotel surrounded by other 7 star hotels (no joke). The ongoing construction has created temporary double decker pedestrian corridors to the Kaaba and has made traveling around the Kaaba and Grand Mosque claustophobic for 2 million people. 

Hajj Crane collapse 2015 (Warning graphic footage)

The red tears in Mecca and Madina

There is nothing wrong with upgrading and modernizing an ancient city. But to destroy thousands of years of cultural history and memory while displacing local people to showcase the world that holy cities can be modern and fun makes many wonder if the upgrades are more about tourism dollars and consumption than keeping the faith. Mecca and Madina haven't been spared from the choas of the world even with Saudi Arabia attempting to cocoon itself from the backlash of terrorism around and in it. In 1979 appropaitely after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a group insurgence led by a man calling himself the Mahdi took over the Grand Mosque in an attempt to overthrow the House of Saud, This was not the first nor the last time anyone or group would threaten to overthrow the out of touch Saudi royal family. The Grand Mosque Seizure is often forgotten in the long list of terrorist attacks in Saudi and Middle East. The Seizure involving a huge hostage crisis was one of the earliest attacks to introduce France's anti terror force GIGN to the world. The GIGN aided the Saudi military in ambushing and ending the two week long siege. The insurgents were killed. The Saudi government put in place restricts and codes of conducts to safeguard the mosque and pilgrims from further harm and a reptition of events. While no group has attacked the holy cities since, Mecca has witnessed sporadic deaths from a combination of stampedes and incidents  throughout the years. The incidents range from fires to construction equipment collapses, Iranians clashing with Saudi forces following 1987 Hajj deaths of 400 Shite pilgrims, Iranian agents being suspected of bomb attacks and the threat of viruses affecting millions of people annually. Last week a massive stampede near the Sudanese pilgram tent killed over 718 pilgrams from various nationalities. In September, a construction crane near the new construction sites ringing the Kaaba collapsed and killed 180 visitors to shock of the wider world. Riyadh has rightly been blamed hundreds of deaths that appear to be happening annually. Among the causes of the wrongful deaths include shabby construction works, corruption by the monarchy, nepotism and lack of farsighed preventive measures ensure safety at every turn of the Hajj for millions of people.

The Hajj 3D experience: Never before seen

Saudi war against Yemeni civilians

While the tragedy in Mecca has transformed into global mourning, the Saudi military is still bombing Yemen into the ground while turning its shoulder to criticisms from ordinay Yemeni, Iran and journalists reporting on the war and destruction in Yemen. Saudi defense forces laucnhed a ground and air campaign to push back the Houthi rebels in Southern Yemen. The war has destroyed civilian infrastructure and lives. Millions of Yemenis have been internally displaced and many Yemeni families are still fleeing to Djibouti, Somalia, again (Yemen is tied to Eastern Africa like Oman is to South Asia), Oman and inside Saudi Arabia. Southern Yemeni seperatists are enjoying support from remaining war weary Yemenis as they fight against the Saudi bombardments, Houthi rebels seeking to control the entire country and pro Hadi supporters. Terrorist attacks against Yemenis at Sanaa mosques and targeting civilians has further pushed Yemen to the edge. Not to mention again that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarachies haven't taken in any refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

7 Yemeni civilians killed by Saudi bombs in Sanaa's old town

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