Ryad | religious Sites empty, the tents of the pilgrims, abandoned hotels uninhabited: Mecca, The holiest city of islam, has lost its usual entertainment to a few weeks of the hajj, which will be “very limited” due to the new coronavirus, the risk of burdening the economy of saudi arabia.
“I hope that, this year, thanks be to God, I’ll be among the first pilgrims,” says the AFP Marwan Abdulrahman, a Saudi living in Mecca.
Among the first, and especially among the only ones: to contain the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, the saudi Arabia has decided to accept only 1000 faithful living on its territory for its pilgrimage at the end of July.
Usually, the country welcomes this opportunity to millions of pilgrims (2.5 million in 2019), came to a large majority of the foreign.
After having suspended, as of march of the “Umrah”, the small pilgrimage, which is carried out throughout the year, the kingdom is about to face a huge shortfall in the flow of pilgrims annually generates $ 10.6 billion euros (about $ 15.3 billion $)
However, the largest exporter of crude in the world is already hit hard by the fall in oil prices and the economic impact of containment declared to fight the virus.
“Zero sales, zero income”
The gains brought about by the hajj has inspired in recent years a boom in real estate and trade around the holy places.
It is built at all-will: shopping centers, apartments and luxury hotels, some with direct views of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building in the center of the Grand mosque towards which to turn the muslims around the world to pray.
“Zero sales, zero income,” said Ahmed Attia, an expatriate egyptian 39-year-old who works for a travel agency in the holy city.
“We are not accustomed to see The Mecca empty. One has the impression of being in a dead city. This is disastrous,” sighed he.
Pilgrimages to finance, directly or indirectly, hundreds of thousands of jobs in several sectors, from travel agencies to mobile phone companies, which were forced to cut their workforce or reduce wages.
The absence of pilgrims “aggravates the economic difficulties” of the kingdom, confirmed to AFP Richard Robinson, an analyst with Oxford Analytica.
Tourism, including religious, is at the heart of the ambitious “Vision 2030” of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who aims to increase the revenues non-petroleum of the kingdom.
On Wednesday, the international monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the GDP of saudi arabia would contract by 6.8% this year due to the weakness in crude prices, its worst performance since the 1980s. This is 4.5 percentage points below the forecast of the IMF of April.
In recent months, the group bin laden, a giant CONSTRUCTION company regarded as a gauge of the health of saudi companies, has not paid wages to thousands of workers, indicated to the AFP a source of the sector.
The growling grows on social networks, where employees denounce these violations so that the company is behind a project of 13.3 billion euros to Mecca, consisting of hotels and shopping malls that can the Great mosque.
The company is seeking to charter planes to send into their country a large number of its workers in south east asia, according to the source. The company has not responded to the demands of the AFP.
The crisis linked to the Covid-19 and the economic downturn have hindered other ambitious tourism projects in the kingdom, after the launch in 2019 in the fanfare of visas for tourists.
If the kingdom seeks to expand tourism outside of religious sites, “the efforts of Saudi arabians still rely on the hajj,” said Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute, based in Washington.
“It is an important pillar of their revenues non-oil and not having it in this period of disruption of the markets of the black gold is a hard blow,” she says.