Hajj 2018. What Does Saudi Arabia Expect?

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On August 7, Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Civil Defense announced that over 18,000 personnel, supported by 3,000 vehicles, have been deployed to provide pilgrims with safety and deal with any risks or threats they might face during Hajj, which will take place from August 19 to August 24. These forces will be stationed at all sacred sites prepared to prevent and deal with any risk that may appear during the event.

In 2017, about 2,000,000 Muslim pilgrims arrived at the holy city of Mecca for the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj, according to reports by Saudi authorities. In 2018, a similar number of pilgrims is expected to visit the holy city.

The event will take place amid a complicates security and political situation inside Saudi Arabia, which is involved in a bloody war in Yemen and in the long-standing regional conflict with Iran. Another factor is a social and political unrest in the Shia-populated part of the kingdom. In 2017, Saudi forces brutally supressed protests in Qatif region of the Eastern Province. Prominent Shia religious figure Nimr al-Nimr was executed in January 2016 on “terrorism chargea”. At the same time, former members of radical armed groups are returning to Saudi Arabia from Syria where they were defeated by local government forces. These persons pose a direct threat to the internal security of the kingdom.

The afromentioned factors as well as constant instability on the Yemeni-Saudi border set ground for possible security incident during Hajj in 2018. While Yemen’s Houthis will most likely avoid striking any targets deep in Saudi Arabia during Hajj, various terrorists [especially supporters of the ISIS ideology], which have found a safe haven in Saudi Arabia, could use this event to send a message to the world. However, experts hope that Saudi security forces in cooperation with the government from which pilgrims arrive will be able to prevent any incidents.

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