Hajj in Mecca: “Corpses on the ground”, pilgrims recount the horrible heat which left 1,100 dead

Hajj in Mecca: “Corpses on the ground”, pilgrims recount the horrible heat which left 1,100 dead
Hajj in Mecca: “Corpses on the ground”, pilgrims recount the horrible heat which left 1,100 dead

After trying for years to obtain a permit for the hajj to Mecca without success, Yasser decided to perform it illegally, a choice he bitterly regrets today.

Although he survived the grueling rituals carried out last week in stifling heat in western Saudi Arabia, he has not seen his wife since Sunday and fears she is among the more than 1,100 recorded deaths, most Egyptians unrecorded like him.

«I searched all the hospitals in Mecca», Says this 60-year-old retired engineer, reached by telephone in his hotel, where he hesitates to pack his wife’s suitcase. More than half of the pilgrims who died during the highlights of the great annual Muslim pilgrimage last week came from Egypt: 658 of the 1,100 dead, according to a count made from data provided by around ten countries and diplomats involved in the research operations.

The State Department reported “several» American citizens who died during the hajj without providing further details. According to an Arab diplomat, the overwhelming majority of Egyptians who died did not have the necessary permits to access amenities during the pilgrimage, such as air-conditioned tents offering respite to worshipers in temperatures that soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius at the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

Friday, in a first Saudi comment on these deaths, a senior official defended the management of the pilgrimage, assuring that the state “did not fail».

He said authorities confirmed 577 deaths for the two busiest days of the hajj: Saturday, when pilgrims gathered under the blazing sun on Mount Arafat, and Sunday, when they participated in the “stoning” ritual. of the devil” to Mina.

«This happened against a backdrop of difficult weather conditions and very severe temperatures“, he said, acknowledging that the figure of 577 was partial and did not cover the entire hajj, which officially ended on Wednesday.

Bypass official circuits

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and every Muslim who can afford it must do it at least once in their life.

Permits are allocated based on quotas, then granted in countries like Egypt through a lottery. If they obtain the permit, pilgrims must then go through accredited service providers, which are often expensive. Many believers therefore try to bypass official circuits.

Yasser, an illegal alien who requested anonymity, quickly understood the disadvantages of not having the famous permit. Even before the hajj began, some stores and restaurants refused to serve it. And when the rituals began, he was unable to access the official buses.

But worse, he lost his wife, Safaa, in the crowd during the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina, near Mecca. Since then, he has continued to postpone their return flight. Other illegal Egyptian pilgrims, interviewed by AFP, described dramatic scenes on the path of the faithful to Mina.

“Egypt is sad”

«There were dead bodies on the ground. I’ve seen people suddenly collapse and die of exhaustionsaid Mohammed, 31, an Egyptian who lives in Saudi Arabia and who performed the hajj with his 56-year-old mother. Another Egyptian, resident in Riyadh, claims to have seen her mother die before an ambulance arrived. His body was then transported to an unknown location.

Even some registered pilgrims had difficulty accessing emergency services, showing that the system was overwhelmed, says Moustafa, whose two elderly parents — who had their hajj permits — died after being separated from loved ones who accompanied them.

«We knew they were tired», he says on the phone from Egypt. “They walked a lot, couldn’t find water and it was so hot». «We will never see them again.» «All Egypt is sad“, he regrets, affirming that his only consolation is that his parents were buried in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

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