By Nada Badawi and Doaa Farid
Egyptian officials have challenged reports that the emir of Mecca province, Khaled bin Faisal Al-Saud, announced that 700,000 Egyptian pilgrims arrived in Islam’s holy city during the first ten days of Ramadan.
According to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, Al-Saud stated that Egyptian pilgrims represented the majority out of 6 million total pilgrims.
Elhamy El-Zayat, Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said the number is “exaggerated”.
“There is a reduction in the number of visas issued this year because of the extensions in the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” El-Zayat said.
“There can’t be 700,000 Egyptian pilgrims; the total number of pilgrims themselves can’t be 700,000.” he said.
Board Member of the Egyptian Tourism Federation Seif El-Ammary explained that the Grand Mosque can’t accommodate more than 500,000 pilgrims.
El-Ammary also explained that the Saudi Ministry of Hajj has reduced the number of the visas for pilgrims this year by 20%, “which contradicts the announced numbers.”
This June, Saudi Arabia announced its decision to reduce the number of pilgrims from all countries permitted to perform hajj this year, citing ongoing infrastructural projects in the holy city of Mecca as the primary cause for the cut.
“Before, all visas were provided prior to the beginning of Ramadan, and now they are being provided during the month,” El-Ammary said.
Following the Saudi Kingdom’s decision to reduce numbers of pilgrims, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou, visited Saudi Arabia with members of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, in the hope that the Saudis would reconsider.
It was reported that the expansion will add 400,000 square metres and raise the capacity of the mosque to accommodate more than 2.2 million Muslims.