Saudi Arabia will continue to slash the number of domestic and foreign pilgrims for two more years until the ongoing mataf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) expansion project is completed to ensure the safety of pilgrims, a senior official said.
“The Kingdom decided to reduce foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and domestic pilgrims by 50 percent this year because of the mataf expansion project,  which will take three years to complete,” Deputy Haj Minister Eissa Rawwas told Arab News when asked whether the government would allow more pilgrims to perform Haj next year.
The mataf project is carried out in three phases.
“This year they will complete one-third of the project while the remaining two phases will be completed in the next two years. Once the project is complete more pilgrims will be able to perform Haj,” Rawwas said.
The project aims at increasing the mataf’s capacity from 48,000 to 130,000 pilgrims per hour. The Haram expansion, which is taking place concurrently, will hike the Grand Mosque’s capacity to two million worshippers.
The minister called upon all pilgrims to follow the Kingdom’s Haj regulations as well as the grouping system that was introduced to prevent overcrowding at mataf and the Jamrat (where the faithful stone Satan) in Mina.
Rawwas said the government decided to reduce the number of pilgrims until the completion of mataf expansion following the advice of crowd management experts. “Definitely this is done for the benefit of pilgrims.” Saad Al-Qurashi, president of the National Haj & Umrah Committee at Makkah Chamber, told Arab News that the minimum Haj service charge has been reduced to SR2,500, adding that it would benefit 10,000 pilgrims. Nearly 2 million pilgrims, including about 1.3 million who have come from abroad, will take part in this year’s Haj that begins on Oct. 13. Civil Defense Director General Lt. Gen. Saad Al-Tuwaijri has warned that his department would not tolerate any violations of Haj safety regulations, adding that the violators would be arrested. “We have given powers to our officers to remove all safety violations at pilgrim houses in Makkah and tents in the holy sites.” Extensive Haj coverage