With his head in his hands, Sajjad Malik sounds contemptuous. His taxi booking office near Mecca’s iconic Grand Mosque, Masjid al-Haram, is empty. “There is no job, no salary, nothing,”; he says.
“Usually these two or three months before Hajj (the annual pilgrimage), I and the drivers make enough money to endure the rest of the year. But now nothing.”
One of his drivers, Samiur Rahman, who is mostly made up of Saudi Arabian private workers, sends office status updates from several around the popular Mecca Clock Tower. There is a lack of pilgrims in the sea – they usually prefer the streets dressed in white with umbrellas to protect themselves from the intense heat.
Today, drivers-carriers have no passengers, and the city looks like a ghost town. Sajjad’s drivers sent him videos of the pigeons filling the pigeons.
“My drivers have no food and now they sleep four or five in each room, in rooms for two,” says Sajjad.
I ask him if he gets any government help. No, no help, nothing. I have savings we spend. But I have a lot of employees – more than 50 people worked with me – and they suffer.
“One of my friends called me yesterday and said, ‘Please, I need a job, I don’t even care how much you want to pay me.’ Believe me, people are crying. ”
This year’s Hajj is under strict restrictions. Saudi Arabia has spotted one of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus in the Middle East, saying two million pilgrims, who usually come to Mecca from around the world, will not be allowed to do so to curb the spread of Covid-19. .
- Saudi Arabia bans international Hajj pilgrims
- Travel companies face pilgrimage insurance
Only those already living in the country will be allowed to perform Hajj – their number will be reduced to 1,000.
Pilgrims will not be able to drink freely from the well of St. Zamzamo, the water will have to be bottled separately. When it comes to stoning three columns in Mine, symbolizing the rejection of the devil, the pebbles will have to be sterilized.
Away from Saudi Arabia itself, a huge influx of hungry pilgrims is often leading to lucrative livestock import orders from neighboring countries such as Kenya – many of whose farmers now have unsold herds of cattle.
“Kenya’s livestock subsector is large. It is the mainstay of many households in the country and the way of life of most farmers, especially during the Hajj period,” says Patrick Kimani of the Kenya Livestock Producers Association.
According to him, its members export an average of 5,000 cattle to Saudi Arabia. “Farmers are now starting to sell refrigerators and local markets.
“We’re concerned that this could drive prices for local cattle, as all of this extra production could be sold to local buyers at a lower price so they can sell quickly.”
Hajj dates back to the life of the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago and there have been several similar limitations in its history.
What is Hajj?
At least once, a pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam – the five commitments that, according to Islam, a good and responsible Muslim has that he must afford.
Pilgrims gather in Mecca to stand in front of the Kaaba-known structure, while hearing God (God).
They also perform other acts of worship, renewing their sense of purpose in the world.
The sudden abolition of the old-age income source has shocked many travel companies as well.
Pakistan sent most foreign pilgrims to Saudi Arabia last year. But today in Karachi, Shahzad Tajj says his company’s cheap Hajj and Umrah deals are on the verge of collapse.
“Basically, the business is zero. It didn’t even do any other travel-related activities. Like flights, logistics, deliveries – so there was nothing to sell. Frankly, we weren’t fully prepared for that.
“We had to keep our staff to a minimum. Time has now forced us to sell our assets, cars and some assets to at least get through this stage. I’m helping part of my team’s relief funds, but that’s all I have to offer until who ”.
Restrictions this year pose a major financial hole in the cities of Mecca and Medina, which receive billions of dollars worth of business from traveling pilgrims.
“While there will be huge savings for the Saudi government this year over hosting the Hajj, Mecca and Medina will lose about $ 9 billion – $ 12 billion (£ 7 billion – £ 9 billion) worth of business,” says Mazen Al Sudairi. , research manager at Al-Rajhi Capital, a financial services company, in Riyadh.
Mr Al-Sudairi says the government has taken help. “Small and medium-sized enterprises may have suffered, but the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia is trying to support this segment, giving them relief by postponing their loans for another two or three months.
“We think we have a period of recovery – we think the worst is behind us.”
More than 80% of Saudi Arabia’s national income comes from oil, but prices have fallen and forced the country to diversify. However, according to Alexander Perjessy of Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, things were not going so well.
“2020 March. The government has announced a moratorium on the collection of various state fees, as well as value added tax, for three months. [But] it will not stop the economic downturn in the non-oil sector – we expect it to fall by around 4%, ”he says.
Despite Mecca in front of his blank order screen, Sajjad Malik does not want to return to his native Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia was an economic last resort for those people in neighboring countries who were trying to earn enough.
“While working in Saudi Arabia for more than eight years, I allowed my children and family to take care of the home. We receive free medical benefits. When Hajj happens, I get a huge income,” he says.
“The workforce community is struggling. But this country is still my first, praise God.”