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Pilgrims recount the horror of the heat of the hajj

Photo: Agence France-Presse More than half of the pilgrims who died last week were from Egypt: 658 of the 1,100 dead.

Agence France-Presse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Posted yesterday at 6:15 PM

  • Middle East

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.< /p>

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

“I searched all the hospitals in Mecca.” , this 60-year-old retired engineer told AFP, contacted by telephone in his hotel, where he was hesitant 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 carried out by AFP using data provided by around ten countries and diplomats involved in the search operations.

The State Department reported “several” American citizens who died during the hajj without providing further information details.

According to an Arab diplomat, the overwhelming majority of Egyptians who died did not have the necessary authorizations that allow access to amenities during the pilgrimage, such as air-conditioned tents offering respite to worshipers as temperatures soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius at Mecca's Grand Mosque.

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

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

“This happened in a context of difficult weather conditions and very severe temperatures,” he told AFP , recognizing 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 on the basis of 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 faithful 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 ritual of “stoning of the devil” in Mina, near Mecca.

Since then, he has continued to postpone their return flight.

Other Egyptian clandestine pilgrims interviewed by AFP described dramatic scenes on the pilgrims’ route to Mina.

“Egypt is sad”

“There were dead bodies on the ground. I saw people suddenly collapse and die of exhaustion,” said Mohammed, 31, an Egyptian living in Saudi Arabia who performed the hajj with his 56-year-old mother.

Another Egyptian woman, living in Riyadh, said she saw 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 said by phone from Egypt. “They were walking a lot, couldn’t find water and it was so hot.” “We will never see them again. »

“All Egypt is sad,” he laments, saying his only consolation is that his parents were buried in Mecca, the city holiest in Islam.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116