Mina Stampede

Saudi Arabia is accountable for the tragedy in Mina

On the anniversary of the martyrdom of a number of Haj pilgrims in the tragedy of the stampede in the area of Mina in Mecca, Khamenei.ir is publishing an Op-Ed that discusses different aspects of this incident.

"Crush and Stampede" is a term used in English to describe the tragedy of September 24, 2015 in Mina, Saudi Arabia. Stampede, or swarming, is a situation where large numbers of people become confused and bewildered due to overcrowding, and their movement is uncontrolled and aimless. This type of stampeding can lead to death or injury. Therefore, this issue and its being repeated in various crowds has brought about a specialized field of study under the title "population management."

According to many statistics, the Mina tragedy was the deadliest case of stampeding in the last hundred years.[1] The tragedy took place on the morning of Eid al-Adha, 2015, at the site for the Ramy al-Jamarat (Stoning the Devil) ceremony in Street 204 in Mecca, killing a large number of pilgrims. However two days after the Mina tragedy, Saudi Arabia itself claimed that only 769 people were killed and more than 900 were injured in the incident. Despite official statistics that showed more than 2,000 people lost their lives, they never updated their figures.[2] Nonetheless, the real statistics are much higher. According to Associated Press, 2,411 people lost their lives in this tragedy.[3] Meanwhile, the total number of victims from different countries is at least 2,431 people.[4] Some unofficial reports even put the death toll at 8,000. Of these, 464 were Iranian pilgrims, the highest number among countries participating in the 2015 Hajj ceremony. This was followed by African countries such as Mali, Nigeria and Egypt, which had the highest number of casualties. Meanwhile, a number of victims are still missing and their bodies have never been found. In some reports, these victims have not been included in the death toll.

Although this Hajj had the highest death toll, it was not the only such incident. On September 11th in the same year of 2015, 13 days before the tragedy in Mina, a large crane fell in the Holy Mosque killing 111 people. And in another incident in July 1990 during the Ramy al-Jamarat ceremony, about 5,000 pilgrims were trapped in a half-built tunnel, which could only hold 1,000 people, and 1,426 people lost their lives in that incident.[5] That disaster had the highest number of casualties after the Mina tragedy. The same thing happened in 2006. But the calamities in Hajj are not limited to such tragedies, for which excuses may be brought for their cause and they may be referred to as unintentional accidents. On July 31, 1987 during a ceremony for the “Disavowal of the Polytheists,” the Saudi security forces opened fire on the pilgrims killing 400 of them. Those people didn’t lose their lives in an accident, but rather by a direct decision of the Saudis.[6]

Most of these events have been consigned to history without any particular follow-up having taken place. But the tragic case of Mina is still open with many claimants.

 

Was the Mina tragedy just an accident?

Now 5 years after that tragedy, the exact cause is still unclear. The Arabic newspaper “Ad-Diyar” stated that the cause of that incident was the passing of the caravan of Muhammad bin Salman, the son of the King of Saudi Arabia at that time. The newspaper claimed that part of the pilgrims' route was closed due to the uncoordinated passing of his caravan, which caused congestion.[7] A BBC report confirmed that at least one of the roads was blocked,[8] but Saudi officials strongly denied these claims.[9]

Despite all those speculations, the Saudi government declared that this incident was just an accident and had no reason other than the overcrowding of the pilgrims themselves. And they stated that this was the fate of the pilgrims this year without making an effort to satisfy public opinion or prove its claims. But is this enough to acquit Saudi Arabia? Of course, in the tragedy of Mina and the role of the Saudis in that bitter event, it is not only the cause of the incident that needs to be questioned. Even if we accept that it was an incident due to stampeding and do not ask why Saudi Arabia has not yet been able to find a way to manage stampeding after years of holding Hajj ceremonies, the role of the Saudis in exacerbating this tragedy and the subsequent crises cannot be ignored. These include: failure to disclose official statistics for the number of victims after 5 years, resisting the establishment of a fact-finding committee and preventing more detailed investigations, sabotaging the identification of bodies and not properly searching for missing persons, as well as preventing the return of many bodies and the fact that many are missing due to negligence. Most important is their delay in trying to rescue the pilgrims and leaving a mountain of bodies under the summer sun in Hijaz without considering the possibility that there may be live pilgrims among them. These are just some examples of the Saudi government's unsuitable, catastrophic performance.

Rashid Siddiqi, a 42-year-old American from Marita, was in the crowd on the day of the Mina tragedy, but he miraculously escaped unharmed. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that he himself heard some of the pilgrims from amongst the piled-up bodies who were moaning and saying they were thirsty and short of breath. But no one was there to help. He said that one after another people died of thirst in front of his eyes while water was sprayed on them with a hose and he himself did not know how he survived in that situation. It was only after two hours that security forces slowly came forward to the crowd, rescued a limited number and left the rest.[10] Sayyid Shahzad Azar is a Pakistani pilgrim who said that the process of identifying his mother took nine months.[11] There are many examples of such witnesses and similar narrations. All of this shows that in this catastrophe something beyond mere stampeding was to blame.

 

Saudi Arabia is still condemned

Mecca is the safe sanctuary of God. It is the place where God considers the security of all, even non-humans, to be necessary. And the Hajj ceremony should be the manifestation of this security. However, the incorrect, incompetent management of the Saudis in this ancient, monotheistic religious tradition has brought insecurity for the pilgrims of the Holy Shrine for many years. The large number of martyrs in different years proves that they are not qualified to be the custodians of the Holy Shrines. Of course, death due to stampeding has a long history in the world, but in the last hundred years, half of the deaths due to stampeding have been recorded in the annual Hajj ceremonies.

This is not a Shia-Sunni dispute, rather the Saudi carelessness has caused the entire Muslim nation to be grief-stricken. In all the fatal events in Hajj, including the tragedy of Mina, the Sunni martyrs were more than those of the Shia. But the Saudis have never apologized in any case or even tried to be transparent and accountable.[12] Despite all this lack of competence, this government has the support of a power like the United States. Even the Western countries which claim to defend human rights, have never expressed concern over the violation of the rights of the Muslim nation and their honorable lives. Although they did not play a direct role in the Mina tragedy, their long-standing silence and support has caused them to be participants in this bloodshed.[13] These governments along with the Saudi government have committed an unprecedented oppression by supporting an unjust, erroneous rule over the land of Hejaz, and by entrusting the most important monotheistic religious ritual in the Islamic world, which is the axis of unity for the Islamic nation, to it.

Now, 5 years after the Mina tragedy and many other catastrophes, is it not time for the Saudi government to accept responsibility for its mistakes and admit its inability to be an appropriate custodian to serve the two Holy Shrines? Don’t the human rights claimants wish to pursue the rights of thousands of Muslims on Hajj? Of course, their historical background clearly reveals that such a thing will never happen. It is the Islamic countries, who have suffered from the incompetence of the Saudi government, who with a new unity must think of another plan in opposition to this oppression to be able to hold Hajj, this Abrahamic tradition, in an atmosphere of monotheism.

 

 


[1].  https://news.yahoo.com/foreign-toll-figures-show-hajj-tragedy-deadliest-history-091459114.html

[2] . https://apnews.com/730760fdd264412b96d4e06f46b75bbf/hajj-nears-questions-about-deadly-2015-stampede-remain

[3] . https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/12/10/world/middleeast/ap-ml-saudi-hajj.html

[4]   https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34391055

[5] . https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/jan/13/saudiarabia

[6] . K. McLachlan, Iran and the Continuing Crisis in the Persian Gulf. GeoJournal, Issue 3, vol. 28, p. 359, Nov. 1992.

[7] . https://www.addiyar.com/article/1044347-%d9%85%d8%ac%d8%b2%d8%b1%d8%a9-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d8%b5%d9%81%d9%88%d9%81-%d8%ad%d8%ac%d8%a7%d8%ac-%d9%85%d9%83%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%83%d8%b1%d9%85%d8%a9-%d9%88%d8%ad%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%89-10000-%d9%82%d8%aa%d9%8a%d9%84-%d9%882000-%d8%ac%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%ad%d8%aa%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d9%86%d8%a7%d8%ac%d8%ad%d8%a9-%d9%81%d9%8a

[8] . https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34351652

[9] . https://hunaaden.com/news27920.html

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/06/world/middleeast/2015-hajj-stampede.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] https://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=34311

A statement of the Supreme Leader in meeting with families of the Mina martyrs.

[13] Ibid.

Tags

  • 2015 Mina stampede
  • Hajj
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi regime

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