The demand made by Iranian leadership and other countries for taking the Hajj and Umrah services away from Saudi control and handing over to any international committee is absurd and politically motivated, Senator Professor Sajid Mir, a prominent Islamist leader of Pakistan and President of Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith, has said.
Speaking exclusively to AlArabiya.net, Mir said that the enemies of Saudi regime spare no effort in trying to damage its reputation. “Citing lack of security and facilitation for Hajj pilgrims as a basis for this demand are also absurd and baseless,” he said.
“Improving the facilities to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims has always been the top priority of Saudi leadership, even during the times of economic constraints,” Sajid Mir said. He said that there has been continuous expansion of holy places of Makkah and Madinah for the last four decades costing a huge sum.
“Every time I go there, I find the holy places (Harmain Sharifain) expanded beyond recognition, offering the best possible facilities for a steadily growing number of pilgrims,” he said. Sajid Mir has been an old ally of ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Nawaz group and is a member of the Upper House of the parliament, the Senate.
“Now the holy cities are being connected to airports by two train systems, Fast Train and Link Train. Besides, a new airport is being built at Taif to ease pressure on Jeddah which already has multiple airports,” Sajid Mir said. He said that purchasing lands and buildings for expanding holy places involves huge amounts of money, planning and dedication, which no international control could offer.
According to him, Saudi Arabia’s economy has been bouncing back steadily over the last few months following a dip which came in the wake of tough austerity measures including introduction of new tax regime and clampdown on corruption.
The bold measures, a general tax on sales and others on expatriate employees besides reducing subsidies on essential commodities and hiking fuel prices for domestic consumers, apart from arrests of high profile royalties were designed to free the economy and reduce budget deficit, he said.
He added that the policy makers of kingdom ensured that none of facilities to the people was affected unreasonably while meeting new requirements of revenue generation. “The overarching concept of benign monarchy has been kept in place in all those measures,” Mir said.
Visit to the kingdom
Sajid Mir, who has recently returned from a visit to the kingdom, said Saudi Arabia has been treading the same economic path for decades providing comforts and subsidies to residents, but it had to be changed following sinking oil prices in world markets and tough domestic requirements as part of its Vision 2030 to take the economy away from oil-dependence.
The corruption clampdown was also part of that policy. Saudi stock market has since shown a sturdy resilience, and foreign investors are looking for opportunities in what they see as emergence of one of the biggest economies in the Middle East, he said.
He also said that zero tolerance for corruption in state machinery has now become a global norm and that new taxes on foreign workers were not prejudicial to them but primarily aimed at realization the long standing dream of Saudization of workforce.
Those were aimed at absorbing a large number of Saudi nationals who were unable to find suitable employments despite sustained government efforts and stipends, he said.
Sajid Mir underlined that the economy of kingdom has been under pressure to counter serious security threats from different sides causing a sustained outflow of considerable amount of money.
“Hundreds of missiles had been fired targeting vital cities including Holy city of Madinah from the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the country which has been used as a base by enemies of Saudi Arabia for many decades. But luckily all of them were intercepted mid-air by Saudi air defense system,” he said.
For many years, the kingdom has been warding off a series of terror attacks on key installations by foreign funded rebel groups and terrorists infiltrating inside its territories, he said, praising the efficiency and dedication of Saudi security forces, especially the intelligence apparatus, for maintaining security for citizens and government against all kinds of threats.