Sajjad Malik with his head in his hands disgusted. The taxi booking office it manages near the iconic Grand Mosque of Mecca Masjid al-Haram is empty. “There is no job, no salary, nothing,”; he says.
“Usually these two or three months before the Hajj (annual pilgrimage), the driver and I will earn enough money to last until the end of the year. But now nothing. “
One of its drivers, Samiur Rahman, part of a predominantly foreign private worker in Saudi Arabia, sends office status information from roads around the popular Mecca clock tower. There is no sea of pilgrims – they usually line the streets, dressed in white, with parasols to protect themselves from the intense heat.
Today, people carrying drivers are deprived of passengers and the city looks like a ghost town. Sajjada’s drivers send him videos of pigeons filling the roads.
“My drivers have no food and now sleep four or five in a room in rooms for two people,” says Sajjad,
I ask him if he gets help from the government. “No, no help, nothing. I have the savings we spend. However, I have a lot of employees – more than 50 people have worked with me – and they are suffering.
“One of my friends called me yesterday and said, ‘I need some work, I don’t even care how much you want to pay me. “Believe me, people are crying. ”
There are strict restrictions for this year’s Hajj. Saudi Arabia has noted one of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus in the Middle East, stating that the two million pilgrims who routinely come to Mecca from around the world will not be allowed to do so, in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19. .
- Saudi Arabia is blocking the international pilgrimage sites of Hajj
- Traveling solid faces are fighting in the middle of the pilgrimage ban
Hajj can only be played by those who already live in the country, and their number will be reduced to only 1,000.
Pilgrims will not be able to drink freely from the holy well Zamzam, the water will have to be packaged individually. And as for the stoning of the three pillars in the Mine, which symbolizes the rejection of the devil, it will be necessary to sterilize the stones.
In addition to Saudi Arabia itself, the huge influx of hungry pilgrims is leading to lucrative orders for livestock imports from neighboring countries such as Kenya – many of which currently have herds of unsold beef.
“The livestock subsector in Kenya is large. It is the basis for most households in the country and a way of life for most farmers, especially during the Hajj period, ”says Patrick Kimani of the Kenyan Livestock Producers Association.
Its members export an average of 5,000 head of cattle to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. “Farmers are now diversifying into cold stores and local markets.
“We are concerned that this could make local cattle prices more expensive, as anything extra could be sold at a reduced price to local buyers for quick sales.”
Hajj dates back to the life of the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago and its history has only limited limitations.
What is Hajj?
Making a pilgrimage at least once is one of the five pillars of Islam – according to Islam, five obligations must be fulfilled that every Muslim who is in good health and can afford to fulfill in order to live a good and responsible life.
Pilgrims gather in Mecca to confront a structure known as the Kaaba and glorify God (God) together.
They also perform other services, thus renewing their sense of purpose in the world.
The shock of the sudden withdrawal of an ancient source of income is causing many travel companies to struggle.
Last year, Pakistan sent the most foreign pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. But today in Karachi Shahzad Tajj says that his company Cheap Deals for Hajj and Umrah is on the verge of collapse.
“Business is basically zero. No other travel activities took place. Like flights, logistics, deliveries – so there was nothing to sell. Frankly, we weren’t quite ready for that.
“We had to reduce the number of our employees to a minimum. Now time has forced us to sell our property, cars and some property, so that we can at least get through this phase. I’m helping an emergency team, but that’s all I can offer now. ”
Restrictions this year are creating a big financial hole in the cities of Mecca and Medina, which receive billions of dollars worth of business from travel pilgrims.
“Although most of the costs for the Saudi government hosting the city of Hajj will be saved this year, Mecca and Medina will lose about $ 9 billion to $ 12 billion (GBP 7 billion – GBP 9 billion),” says Mazen Al. Sudairi, head of research at Al-Rajhi Capital, a financial services company in Riyadh.
Al-Sudairi claims that the government has joined the aid. “SMEs may have suffered, but the Saudi central bank is trying to support this segment and provide relief by postponing its loans for another two or three months.
“We believe we are facing a period of renewal – we think the worst is behind us.”
More than 80% of Saudi Arabia’s national income comes from oil, but prices have fallen, forcing the country to diversify. However, according to Alexander Perjessy of Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, things are not working so well.
“In March 2020, the government announced that it would postpone the collection of various government fees, as well as value added taxes, for three months. [But] that will not prevent a recession in the oil sector of the economy – we think it will decrease by about 4%, “he says.
In Mecca, despite the blank screen in front of him, Sajjad Malik does not want to return to his native Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia serves as a last resort economic salon for those in neighboring countries who have worked hard to earn enough.
“Working in Saudi Arabia for more than eight years has allowed me to take care of my children and family back home. We get free medical benefits and when it happens to Hajj, there is a big income, “he says.
“The working community is now struggling. But this country is still number one to me, praise God. “