With supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood calling for demonstrations backing ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi during the Hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia has tightened security for the annual event.
Every year before the start of the Hajj, Saudi authorities warn the faithful against using the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca as a platform to air their grievances or make political statements.
Amid heightened tensions gripping the Arab world – from Syria to Egypt – Saudi authorities this year are taking no chances.
As millions of Muslims converge on Mecca to make the five-day Hajj, which starts on October 13, Saudi Arabia has mobilised additional security. It wants to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood does not hijack attention at the annual pilgrimage – and that includes ensuring that a certain four-finger political symbol is not displayed.
On Thursday, Egypt’s minister of religious endowments, Mokhtar Gomaa, said Muslim Brotherhood members were planning to disrupt the annual pilgrimage.
"We all know that the Brotherhood is an international organisation and that some members might plan political protests during Hajj to drive a wedge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia," said Gomaa.
His comments followed media reports that Morsi supporters have called on Brotherhood sympathisers to flash the "Rabba" sign during the Hajj. This would be in memory of demonstrators killed around Cairo’s Rabba al-Adawiya mosque in August following Morsi’s overthrow.
“Rabba” in Arabic means “four” or “fourth”. It has become the name for a four-finger hand sign that in some quarters has replaced the two-fingered “V for Victory” gesture adopted during the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Morsi supporters also use yellow posters emblazoned with the four-finger Rabba symbol during protests.
Saudi eyes Muslim Brotherhood with suspicion
Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to congratulate interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed him the country’s caretaker leader in July. Within a week of the Egyptian military takeover, oil-rich Saudi Arabia announced $12 billion in aid for Egypt - dwarfing the $1.5 billion of US assistance.
The hajj pilgrimage
Pilgrims arrive at Mecca airport © Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24
The hajj, the big annual pilgrimage of Mecca, started on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, 1.8 million foreigners are taking part in it this year.
On Mecca time © Photo: AFP
A giant clock, six times the size of London's Big Ben, displays 'Mecca time' to pilgrims.
Pilgrimage under high security © Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24
At a military parade last week, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz said that the possibility of an al Qaeda attack on Saudi soil during the hajj was high.
A pillar of Islam © Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24
The hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. All Muslims who can afford it are expected to travel at least once in their lifetime to Mecca.
Mount Arafat © Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24
On Monday, pilgrims clad in white made their way to Mount Arafat, the hill on the top of which the Prophet Mohammad delivered the Farewell Sermon. This is the most spiritual of all the hajj rites.
Kaaba © Photo: AFP
On the last day of the hajj, pilgrims take a last trip to Mecca to walk seven times around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building located at the heart of the Great Mosque and toward which Muslims turn while praying.
The world's biggest human gathering © Photo: AFP
In total, some 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to take part in the world's biggest annual human gathering.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative state that supports the austere Wahhabi branch of Islam across the world. But the Gulf kingdom also opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and has banned the group's pan-Islamic political activism.
Saudi Arabia is also suspicious of Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia is the dominant power in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but the tiny state of Qatar extended its influence during the 2011 Arab uprisings.
In a statement published by the official SPA news agency, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said the kingdom had mobilised 95,000 members of the security forces, as well as troops supporting the defence ministry, the national guard and intelligence. He also said the king had approved the creation of a 40,000-strong special force to secure the pilgrimage.
While Nayef did not specifically mention the Brotherhood or Morsi supporters, he warned pilgrims to refrain from political activism.
"The Saudi government urges all pilgrims to perform this ritual away from any action that could put their safety at risk," said Nayef. "The safety of pilgrims requires us to take seriously any expected developments."
Date created : 2013-10-11