The Hajj is back and Saudi Arabia hopes to capitalize on it

Despite high oil prices, the kingdom knows this and has embarked on a ambitious project to diversify its sources of income for a post-oil future. One such source is pilgrimage, an eternal monopoly that has a potential market of nearly two billion Muslims.
“Contrary to [the energy sector]where Saudi Arabia always has to worry about future competitors, in the field of Hajj and Umrah, they are guaranteed to have zero competition in perpetuity,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, research director at Bahrain-based think tank Derasat.
Muslims around the world are returning to Saudi Arabia this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage after a two-year hiatus caused by Covid-19 restrictions. It’s an opportunity for Muslims to fulfill a unique religious obligation, but also a chance for the economy of Saudi Arabia’s holy cities to get off to a good start.
The pandemic has caused the number of Hajj pilgrims to plummet drop to 1000 in 2020, but increased to around 60,000 in 2021, when the Hajj was only open to residents of Saudi Arabia. This year, the kingdom allowed one million Muslims to perform the rites.
Experts say that with crude oil prices hovering around $100 a barrel, generating billions of dollars a day, the economic benefit of the pilgrimage is marginal by comparison. But its great untapped potential could bring significant wealth to the kingdom in the long run.
“Religious tourism in Saudi Arabia may not have the current revenue-generating capacity of the oil and gas sector, but the religious significance of Makkah and Madinah will never dry up,” he said. Robert Mogielnicki, senior researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “It serves as a crucial foundation for developing the broader Saudi tourism sector and marketing it to local, regional and international audiences.”

The potential for expansion is significant, says Steffen Hertog, associate professor at the London School of Economics. Pilgrims could, for example, be encouraged to extend their journeys within the country to visit other religious sites or engage in recreational activities, particularly during the minor year-round pilgrimage, Umrah, where Hajj-related bottlenecks can be avoided, he said.

According to Mastercard’s latest Global Destination Cities Index, Mecca attracted $20 billion in tourist dollars in 2018, second only to Dubai.
Before the pandemic, income from pilgrimages was expected to average around $30 billion a year and create 100,000 jobs for Saudis by 2022. That was when the kingdom attracted around 21 million worshipers each year during the 10-day Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, according to official data cited by Reuters.

The number of pilgrims has dropped significantly during the pandemic, but the government is aiming for 30 million pilgrims by 2030, which some analysts say is an ambitious figure.

The pilgrimage was a drain on government finances due to the cost of infrastructure, maintenance and security, according to Hertog, but it brought in a lot of money for the private sector.

Mecca’s skyline around the thousand-year-old pilgrimage site is cluttered with swanky skyscrapers housing Western hotel chains overlooking the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure to which Muslims turn to pray five times a day. A night at the iconic Fairmont Mecca Clock Royal Tower, which overlooks the Kaaba, is costing up to $4,000 for its most lavish suites for this year’s Hajj season.
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But the government tried to get a piece of that pie. In two years, the Public Public Investment Fund plans to open the Ru’a Al Haram Al Makki project less than a mile from the Kaaba, with 70,000 new hotel rooms and 9,000 residential units. It is expected to bring 8 billion riyals ($2.1 billion) to the Saudi economy.
In a blow to private overseas travel agencies that organize pilgrimages for Muslims in the West, the Saudi government this year announced a new booking platform that requires foreign pilgrims to register and pay for the process directly. through the new government run system called “Motawif”.
The system is designed to streamline the application process, but it has put overseas travel agencies out of business. In the UK alone, the industry is worth an estimated $240 million, and many Hajj operators there are currently facing liquidation, according to the Independent newspaper.

Saudi authorities did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The only threat to Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to capitalize on the pilgrimage “is the decline in religiosity across the world”, Al-Ubaydli said. “But as long as Muslims continue to want to visit these sites, they will represent huge economic opportunities for Saudi Arabia.”

CNN’s Nadeen Ebrahim contributed to this report

The summary

Iran adds demands to nuclear talks, US says

Iran added “unrelated” demands to the table during the latest round of talks on its nuclear program, US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley has on tuesday in an interview with National Public Radio, adding that he has made “alarming” progress in his field of uranium enrichment that would allow him to build a nuclear weapon “within weeks.”
  • Background: The latest round of indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States took place in Doha, Qatar last week, and were negotiated by the European Union. The talks were the last hope to bring the two sides to a deal that would revive a 2015 nuclear accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The two-day talks broke down, however, with Malley describing them as “a lost opportunity”.
  • why is it important: Iran is closing in on the amount of enrichment needed to make a nuclear bomb, with Malley saying it would only take them “a few weeks” to achieve one. “They’re going to have to decide sooner or later,” Malley said, “because at some point the deal will be a thing of the past.”

Ben & Jerry’s sues Unilever for blocking sale of Israeli company

Ben & Jerry’s is sue his parent company to try to cancel the sale of its activity in Israel to a local partner who would continue to distribute its products in the West Bank.
  • Background: The Vermont-based ice cream maker filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday, where it sought an injunction against Unilever “to protect the brand and social integrity that Ben & Jerry’s has taken decades to build”. Last week, Unilever announced it had sold the Israeli business of Ben & Jerry’s for an undisclosed amount to American Quality Products (AQP), which distributes the ice cream in Israel.
  • why is it important: Since 2021, Ben & Jerry’s has been fiercely opposed to selling its products in the West Bank, believing it would be “inconsistent” with the brand. Ben & Jerry’s has been doing business in Israel since 1987, but in recent years has come under pressure to sell in West Bank settlements, considered illegal under international law.

Nazi war criminal Eichmann heard bragging about his role in the Holocaust in audio recordings

Audio recordings have emerged of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann bragging about his role in the Holocaust. The recordings, made in 1957, show Eichmann praising his role in the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish people.

  • Background: Eichmann was captured by Israeli secret agents in Argentina in 1960 and taken to Israel where he was tried for crimes against humanity. In his defense, he argued that he was just following orders and that key decisions were made by other, older Nazi leaders. Eichmann was convicted at trial and put to death in 1962.
  • Why is it important: The recordings, which have been in German archives for decades, have been released for the first time as part of a new documentary on Eichmann called “The Devil’s Confession”. He can be heard saying that it would challenge his innermost beliefs to deny that the Nazis did anything wrong. “If we had killed 10.3 million Jews, I would say with satisfaction, ‘Well, we have destroyed an enemy.’ Then we would have fulfilled our mission,” he said.

Around the region

Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur make history on the grass courts at Wimbledon on Tuesday as she became the first Arab woman to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam.

The world No. 3 overcame a nervous start to rally after a set down and beat Marie Bouzková 3-6 6-1 6-1 on center court.

After reaching the final four, she said it took a long time to come for her personally.

“I had hoped I could get to this stage for a long time already. I struggled several times in the quarter-finals,” Jabeur told the media afterwards.

“I was talking to (former world number 22) Hicham Arazi for a bit, and he said to me: ‘Arabs always lose in the quarter-finals and we’re fed up. Please stop this'”, she added.

The 27-year-old will face another semi-finalist for the first time Tajana Maria for a place in the final.

By Ben Morse

time capsule

Troops of the National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the National Liberation Front, marching through the Médéa district of Algiers, Algeria, in September 1962.

Algeria celebrated this week the 60th anniversary of its independence from France following a bloody war of independence whose wounds have not yet healed.

France began its rule over Algeria in 1830. The city of Algiers was originally taken by the French as a military measure, but as more settlers arrived with French protection, the borders of France continued to advance.

In 1954, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) was formed as a guerrilla group to liberate the country from its colonizer. This sparked an uprising that lasted the next seven years, known as the Algerian War, which saw Tunisia and Morocco gain independence from France in return for militarizing their borders with Algeria.

On March 16, 1962, an agreement was signed in France promising Algerian independence pending a national referendum and on July 5, Algeria celebrated its independence from France.

After its independence, most of the million Europeans returned to their country. More than 100,000 Muslims were killed during the Algerian war which lasted seven years. Algeria says more than 5.6 million were killed more than 130 years of colonization. Last year, French President Emanuel Macron accused Algeria of “rewrite history“, prompting the North African nation to recall its ambassador to Paris. To date, France has not apologized for its role in the colonization of Algeria. There will be “no repentance nor apologies,” according to Macron’s office. said last year.

By Mohamed Abdelbary

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