The pilgrimage to Mecca has began. It will culminate Friday, October 26th with Eid al-Adha. The pilgrimage, one of the five duties of any Muslim, has become the largest gathering in the world.
Last year, the Hajj had attracted three million followers. Saudi authorities expect four million this year. They are prepared with an arsenal of safety and sanitary measures. Some 135,000 police and soldiers were mobilized, 320 specialists have been recruited to deal with failures of elderly or sick pilgrims.
The rapid increase in the number of pilgrims is in line with the great religious revival which took the Sunni Arab world after the 2011 revolutions, which ousted four secular dictators: Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdelaziz, Saudi Minister of Interior called on pilgrims to refrain from politics. The Saudi government does not want the Syrian issue to arouse strong feelings among the different nationalities.
The kingdom also vows to do everything to avoid clashes between Shiites and Sunnis. Syria and its ally Iran accuse Turkey and the Gulf kingdoms of delivering weapons to anti-regime rebels. The Saudi government accuses Iran of inciting the Shiite minority inside the kingdom against the ruling family.
Despite these disagreements, the Hajj is vital for many Saudi businesses as it brings some US$ 40 billion in revenue, meaning that after oil, it is the second source of income in the country.