Hajj on lockdown: How the Saudi government is working to protect its visiting pilgrims this year

Published September 11th, 2016 - 16:05 GMT

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Last year, the Hajj celebrations in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia were marred by tragedy. A stampede killed over 2 thousand pilgrims and the collapse of a crane killed dozens more — bringing the Saudi government’s ability to cope with the influx of pilgrims (who number about 3.7 million annually) into question.

For Hajj 2016, Saudi Arabia made unprecedented changes to its infrastructure and security in the region. Likely motivated by the fallout of the stampede and crane disasters last year as well as recent bombing attacks within the Kingdom, the Saudi Army and Air Force, as well as medical professionals and traffic police are out in full force to halt or prevent any catastrophes and foil any attempts to breach the security of this year's Hajj.

Not just would-be attackers are in the crosshairs. Security forces are keeping an eye out for Muslims sneaking into Mecca without permission - illegally performing the Hajj without winning the enigmatic visa lottery system created by the Saudi government.

To get their point across, the Saudi government has launched a targeted social media campaign that seeks to reassure the public that this Hajj is on lockdown - from medical concerns to security to getting official paperwork - if you’re in Mecca this week they will have your back.

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Overcrowding a a primary worry during Hajj, which is why the government has built dozens of new roads and expanded existing ones just for this Hajj. They have also assured that the roads will remain open; unexpected closures were a primary cause of last year's Hajj tragedy.
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Image 1 of 11:  1 / 11Overcrowding a a primary worry during Hajj, which is why the government has built dozens of new roads and expanded existing ones just for this Hajj. They have also assured that the roads will remain open; unexpected closures were a primary cause of last year's Hajj tragedy.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

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Pilgrims come from all walks of life, from the young and healthy to the old and sick. Heat stroke and dehydration, among other things, are cause for concern. This is why the Saudi government is pouring resources into rapid response medical teams (like the one pictured) to assist with those who fall ill during Hajj.
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Image 2 of 11:  2 / 11Pilgrims come from all walks of life, from the young and healthy to the old and sick. Heat stroke and dehydration, among other things, are cause for concern. This is why the Saudi government is pouring resources into rapid response medical teams (like the one pictured) to assist with those who fall ill during Hajj.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

Enlarge
In a picture released by the government of Mecca's official Twitter account, a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances are presented during pre-Hajj inspections. The Saudi Civil Defense will work long hours to react to crises and protect pilgrims throughout their stay in the holy city.
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Image 3 of 11:  3 / 11In a picture released by the government of Mecca's official Twitter account, a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances are presented during pre-Hajj inspections. The Saudi Civil Defense will work long hours to react to crises and protect pilgrims throughout their stay in the holy city.

(Source: Twitter/@Makkahregion)

Enlarge
Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Crown Prince and de facto head of the security forces, is said to have overseen much of the security preparations. Next in line to the throne, Nayef is considered one of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, and he made a special trip to Mecca to examine the security situation.
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Image 4 of 11:  4 / 11Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Crown Prince and de facto head of the security forces, is said to have overseen much of the security preparations. Next in line to the throne, Nayef is considered one of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, and he made a special trip to Mecca to examine the security situation.

(Source: AFP/File)

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During the Crown Prince's special trip to Mecca, he cruised around on a special, shaded police cruiser to examine the practice maneuvers and processions.
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Image 5 of 11:  5 / 11During the Crown Prince's special trip to Mecca, he cruised around on a special, shaded police cruiser to examine the practice maneuvers and processions.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

Enlarge
Hundreds of police and military vehicles were paraded around for the Crown Prince and photographers. The photos have been widely circulated in a campaign by the municipal government of Mecca to show their readiness in facing potential security threats during the pilgrimage.
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Image 6 of 11:  6 / 11Hundreds of police and military vehicles were paraded around for the Crown Prince and photographers. The photos have been widely circulated in a campaign by the municipal government of Mecca to show their readiness in facing potential security threats during the pilgrimage.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

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Saudi Arabia says it has deployed an extra 100,000 troops in the Mecca region for the upcoming Hajj, many of whom took part in the large parades and activities in honor of the Crown Prince's visit.
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Image 7 of 11:  7 / 11Saudi Arabia says it has deployed an extra 100,000 troops in the Mecca region for the upcoming Hajj, many of whom took part in the large parades and activities in honor of the Crown Prince's visit.

(Source: AFP/File)

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Other than marching and firing weapons, some troops showed their might in an unorthodox fashion - gymnastic martial arts performed by crack troops dressed in ominous black balaclavas.
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Image 8 of 11:  8 / 11Other than marching and firing weapons, some troops showed their might in an unorthodox fashion - gymnastic martial arts performed by crack troops dressed in ominous black balaclavas.

(Source: Twitter/@mekkahregion)

Enlarge
Another pressing concern for the Saudi government is illegal pilgrims - those who sneak into Mecca without proper Hajj documentation. Checkpoints have been set up at every entrance and exit to the city, and the Saudi government has already reported the arrest of over 100,000 illegal pilgrims and smugglers.
Reduce

Image 9 of 11:  9 / 11Another pressing concern for the Saudi government is illegal pilgrims - those who sneak into Mecca without proper Hajj documentation. Checkpoints have been set up at every entrance and exit to the city, and the Saudi government has already reported the arrest of over 100,000 illegal pilgrims and smugglers.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

Enlarge
The Saudis take this matter so seriously that they have invented special electronic devices to easily scan Hajj documentation and detect counterfeits. Someone entering Mecca without permission faces a 10,000 Saudi Royal fine and 15 days in prison before being deported and banned from Saudi Arabia for 10 years.
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Image 10 of 11:  10 / 11The Saudis take this matter so seriously that they have invented special electronic devices to easily scan Hajj documentation and detect counterfeits. Someone entering Mecca without permission faces a 10,000 Saudi Royal fine and 15 days in prison before being deported and banned from Saudi Arabia for 10 years.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

Enlarge
The Saudi Royal Air Force will patrol the skies above Mecca, prepared not only to react to security threats but also to detect pilgrims entering the holy city illegally. Last week, 4 Arab foreign workers in Saudi Arabia were saved from a mountaintop in nearby Taif after they lost their way sneaking into Mecca.
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Image 11 of 11:  11 / 11The Saudi Royal Air Force will patrol the skies above Mecca, prepared not only to react to security threats but also to detect pilgrims entering the holy city illegally. Last week, 4 Arab foreign workers in Saudi Arabia were saved from a mountaintop in nearby Taif after they lost their way sneaking into Mecca.

(Source: AFP/File)

Enlarge

1

Overcrowding a a primary worry during Hajj, which is why the government has built dozens of new roads and expanded existing ones just for this Hajj. They have also assured that the roads will remain open; unexpected closures were a primary cause of last year's Hajj tragedy.

Image 1 of 11Overcrowding a a primary worry during Hajj, which is why the government has built dozens of new roads and expanded existing ones just for this Hajj. They have also assured that the roads will remain open; unexpected closures were a primary cause of last year's Hajj tragedy.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

2

Pilgrims come from all walks of life, from the young and healthy to the old and sick. Heat stroke and dehydration, among other things, are cause for concern. This is why the Saudi government is pouring resources into rapid response medical teams (like the one pictured) to assist with those who fall ill during Hajj.

Image 2 of 11Pilgrims come from all walks of life, from the young and healthy to the old and sick. Heat stroke and dehydration, among other things, are cause for concern. This is why the Saudi government is pouring resources into rapid response medical teams (like the one pictured) to assist with those who fall ill during Hajj.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

3

In a picture released by the government of Mecca's official Twitter account, a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances are presented during pre-Hajj inspections. The Saudi Civil Defense will work long hours to react to crises and protect pilgrims throughout their stay in the holy city.

Image 3 of 11In a picture released by the government of Mecca's official Twitter account, a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances are presented during pre-Hajj inspections. The Saudi Civil Defense will work long hours to react to crises and protect pilgrims throughout their stay in the holy city.

(Source: Twitter/@Makkahregion)

4

Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Crown Prince and de facto head of the security forces, is said to have overseen much of the security preparations. Next in line to the throne, Nayef is considered one of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, and he made a special trip to Mecca to examine the security situation.

Image 4 of 11Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Crown Prince and de facto head of the security forces, is said to have overseen much of the security preparations. Next in line to the throne, Nayef is considered one of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, and he made a special trip to Mecca to examine the security situation.

(Source: AFP/File)

5

During the Crown Prince's special trip to Mecca, he cruised around on a special, shaded police cruiser to examine the practice maneuvers and processions.

Image 5 of 11During the Crown Prince's special trip to Mecca, he cruised around on a special, shaded police cruiser to examine the practice maneuvers and processions.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

6

Hundreds of police and military vehicles were paraded around for the Crown Prince and photographers. The photos have been widely circulated in a campaign by the municipal government of Mecca to show their readiness in facing potential security threats during the pilgrimage.

Image 6 of 11Hundreds of police and military vehicles were paraded around for the Crown Prince and photographers. The photos have been widely circulated in a campaign by the municipal government of Mecca to show their readiness in facing potential security threats during the pilgrimage.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

7

Saudi Arabia says it has deployed an extra 100,000 troops in the Mecca region for the upcoming Hajj, many of whom took part in the large parades and activities in honor of the Crown Prince's visit.

Image 7 of 11Saudi Arabia says it has deployed an extra 100,000 troops in the Mecca region for the upcoming Hajj, many of whom took part in the large parades and activities in honor of the Crown Prince's visit.

(Source: AFP/File)

8

Other than marching and firing weapons, some troops showed their might in an unorthodox fashion - gymnastic martial arts performed by crack troops dressed in ominous black balaclavas.

Image 8 of 11Other than marching and firing weapons, some troops showed their might in an unorthodox fashion - gymnastic martial arts performed by crack troops dressed in ominous black balaclavas.

(Source: Twitter/@mekkahregion)

9

Another pressing concern for the Saudi government is illegal pilgrims - those who sneak into Mecca without proper Hajj documentation. Checkpoints have been set up at every entrance and exit to the city, and the Saudi government has already reported the arrest of over 100,000 illegal pilgrims and smugglers.

Image 9 of 11Another pressing concern for the Saudi government is illegal pilgrims - those who sneak into Mecca without proper Hajj documentation. Checkpoints have been set up at every entrance and exit to the city, and the Saudi government has already reported the arrest of over 100,000 illegal pilgrims and smugglers.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

10

The Saudis take this matter so seriously that they have invented special electronic devices to easily scan Hajj documentation and detect counterfeits. Someone entering Mecca without permission faces a 10,000 Saudi Royal fine and 15 days in prison before being deported and banned from Saudi Arabia for 10 years.

Image 10 of 11The Saudis take this matter so seriously that they have invented special electronic devices to easily scan Hajj documentation and detect counterfeits. Someone entering Mecca without permission faces a 10,000 Saudi Royal fine and 15 days in prison before being deported and banned from Saudi Arabia for 10 years.

(Source: Twitter/@makkahregion)

11

The Saudi Royal Air Force will patrol the skies above Mecca, prepared not only to react to security threats but also to detect pilgrims entering the holy city illegally. Last week, 4 Arab foreign workers in Saudi Arabia were saved from a mountaintop in nearby Taif after they lost their way sneaking into Mecca.

Image 11 of 11The Saudi Royal Air Force will patrol the skies above Mecca, prepared not only to react to security threats but also to detect pilgrims entering the holy city illegally. Last week, 4 Arab foreign workers in Saudi Arabia were saved from a mountaintop in nearby Taif after they lost their way sneaking into Mecca.

(Source: AFP/File)

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