“I think it would be beneficial for the entire Ummah (community) that administration of the two holy cities of Mekkah (Mecca) and Medina as well as the management of the Hajj pilgrimage were put in the hands of a coalition of Muslim leaders that will agree to changes and improvement to the structure of the cities,” Hafsa Kara-Mustapha said in an exclusive interview with the Tasnim News Agency on Saturday.
Hafsa Kara-Mustapha is a London-based political analyst specializing in the Middle East and Africa. She has worked for Reuters and the FT group. Her work has been published in the Middle East magazine, Jane’s Foreign report and El Watan and she is a regular commentator on TV discussing international affairs.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Q: In the past two days, many countries and Islamic figures and organizations have criticized Saudi Arabia for its incompetency and imprudence in organizing the big event as this is not the first time such a tragedy has happened. How do you think such a great annual event should be managed then? Do not you think that there should be a council of several Muslim countries instead of only Saudi Arabia because Mecca is not only the heritage of Saudi Arabia but also of the entire Muslim world?
A: The king of Saudi has himself accepted that responsibility for the catastrophe that has left over 700 pilgrims dead (now over 1,300) was down to authority failures. This is the 6th catastrophe of a similar scale and while previous years have been less bloody, we know for a fact that Hajj has become a dangerous experience.
I think it would be beneficial for the entire Ummah that administration of the two holy cities of Mekkah and Medina as well as the management of the Hajj pilgrimage were put in the hands of a coalition of Muslim leaders that will agree to changes and improvement to the structure of the cities.
Over the years many major works have been carried out without any consultation process and have angered many Muslims who are appalled that their heritage is being destroyed.
A coalition made up of Muslims from across the world can be positive for the way the Hajj is run and will also benefit Saudis in the long run as they would not be held solely responsible should another catastrophe of this scale occur.
Q: What is your take on this situation? Do you believe that Saudi Arabia is no longer able to manage and provide safety and security for a crowd of two million Muslim pilgrims in an event that the circumstances are well-known beforehand?
A: It’s difficult to say before an independent inquiry determines the exact causes of the tragedy. This is Eid and let’s not heighten tensions across the community by throwing about accusations without knowing what exactly happened. The internet is a great source of information but often it is a source of disinformation and old pictures are posted as new, footage is doctored. Saudis have already accepted responsibility. In the coming days or weeks we will get more information on what truly happened but it is clear that human failings were at the heart of this stampede.
Q: According to reports, the caretaking staff appointed by the Saudi government to be in charge of this year’s Hajj are not properly trained and lack essential skills to run the big event. Do not you think that this failure is mainly because the Saudi government is using its experienced and well-trained forces in wars with its neighboring countries?
A: That could be an explanation but I’m afraid I don’t know. Many eyewitnesses have said that the crowd control was of very poor quality and when panic took over the crowds they were unable to handle the situation.