Over 700 dead and more than 800 injured in Hajj stampede: It is a tragedy that has been repeated many times, yet Saudi Arabia continues to fail to protect Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
The tragedy was predictable and avoidable.
The New York Times reports at least 717 people were killed, and 863 were injured, in a stampede near Mecca on Thursday morning, around 9 a.m., on the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest holidays in the Muslim calendar.
CNN reports the stampede occurred during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina, about 2 miles from Mecca, Islam’s holiest city:
Footage taken just after the stampede — obtained by CNN Arabic — shows a disturbing scene. Bodies piled upon bodies, a few moving, but most appearing lifeless. Workers in hard hats and reflective vests can be seen working the edges of the pile of faithful, pulling dead bodies away to get to those who are still alive.
Thursday’s stampede is the deadliest accident to occur in the Hajj since the 1990 stampede that killed 1,426 people. Yet neither incident is unique, and the same sort of tragedy keeps reoccurring. Some notable incidents include:
July 2, 1990 : A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma’aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims, many of them of Malaysian, Indonesian and Pakistani origin.
May 23, 1994 : A stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.
April 9, 1998: at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge.
March 5, 2001: 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.
February 11, 2003: The stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims’ lives.
February 1, 2004: 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
January 12, 2006: A stampede during the stoning of the Devil on the last day of the Hajj in Mina killed at least 346 pilgrims and injured at least 289 more. The incident occurred shortly after 13:00 local time, when a busload of travellers arrived together at the eastern access ramps to the Jamarat Bridge. This caused pilgrims to trip, rapidly resulting in a lethal stampede. An estimated two million people were performing the ritual at the time.
Irfan al-Alawi, the executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation and a critic of how the Saudi government has developed the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, told The New York Times that the disaster was a result of “poor management” by the government, given the number of past disasters.
While Madawi al-Rasheed, an anthropologist and visiting professor at the London School of Economics, said:
There is no accountability. It’s shocking that almost every year there is some kind of death toll.
Saudi Arabia makes billions of dollars from the annual Hajj. In 2014 the kingdom made an estimated $8.5 Billion. Yet despite the tremendous amount of wealth the annual event creates, and the supposed religious significance of the event, Saudi Arabia continues to fail to protect the millions of Muslims making the pilgrimage.
Perhaps it is simply incompetence. Perhaps it is greed. More than likely it is a combination of both. Whatever the case, it is inexcusable. It is obscene that this keeps happening again and again in a situation where the crowd is expected and the rituals and places are always the same.
Yet it should come as no surprise that Saudi Arabia fails to protect Muslims at the annual Hajj. The kingdom is a corrupt and repressive regime with no regard for human life or human rights.