President Buhari Wishes Saudi Ruler, King Salman Speedy Recovery

This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old ruler King Salman has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has wished Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Salman Bin Abdulazizaz a speedy recovery.

The 84-year-old ruler was admitted to hospital in Riyadh on Monday for gall bladder inflammation, according to the royal court.

In a series of tweets, President Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, on behalf of the Nigerian leader, described the Saudi King as a true friend of the country, praying for his quick recovery.

“President Muhammadu Buhari Monday sent a passionate get well message to Saudi Ruler and Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who has been hospitalized,” the tweet read.

“King Salman is a true friend of Nigeria who has never failed to identify with us at all times through important collaborations and cooperation.

“As the King receives medical attention, I send my best wishes and prayers for his speedy recovery.’’

 

Rare Development

It is rare for Saudi Arabia to report on the health of the ageing monarch, who has ruled the top oil exporter and the Arab world’s biggest economy since 2015.

The king was “admitted today to King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh for some medical tests due to cholecystitis,” inflammation of the gall bladder, the royal court said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The announcement made around 4:30 am (0130 GMT) did not disclose any further details.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia, which was due to start on Monday, has been postponed after the king’s hospitalisation, according to the Saudi foreign minister.

“In recognition of the extremely important visit and a desire to make it a success, our wise leadership in coordination with our brothers in Iraq have decided to postpone the visit” until the king leaves hospital, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan wrote on Twitter.

Hours before Kadhemi was to set off on his first trip abroad as premier, his office said they heard King Salman was suffering from “a sudden health issue”.

“It was decided to postpone the visit to the earliest possible date agreed upon by the two sides,” his office said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Admitted To Hospital

This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old ruler King Salman has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s 84-year-old ruler King Salman was admitted to hospital in Riyadh Monday for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said, prompting the postponement of the Iraqi prime minister’s high-profile visit.

It is rare for Saudi Arabia to report on the health of the ageing monarch, who has ruled the top oil exporter and the Arab world’s biggest economy since 2015.

The king was “admitted today to King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh for some medical tests due to cholecystitis,” inflammation of the gall bladder, the royal court said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The announcement made around 4:30 am (0130 GMT) did not disclose any further details.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia, which was due to start on Monday, has been postponed after the king’s hospitalisation, according to the Saudi foreign minister.

“In recognition of the extremely important visit and a desire to make it a success, our wise leadership in coordination with our brothers in Iraq have decided to postpone the visit” until the king leaves hospital, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan wrote on Twitter.

Hours before Kadhemi was to set off on his first trip abroad as premier, his office said they heard King Salman was suffering from “a sudden health issue”.

“It was decided to postpone the visit to the earliest possible date agreed upon by the two sides,” his office said in a statement.

Iraq’s oil, finance, electricity and planning ministers arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to begin meetings ahead of Kadhemi’s visit, Iraqi officials told AFP.

This file handout photo provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on March 19, 2020, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz addressing the nation in a televised speech regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, in the capital Riyadh. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on March 19, 2020, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz addressing the nation in a televised speech regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, in the capital Riyadh. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

 

The delegation is set to return to Baghdad after the meetings wrap up on Monday afternoon.

Under the king’s rule, Saudi Arabia launched ambitious economic reforms for a post-oil era and gave more rights to women, but also adopted a more assertive foreign policy and entered a war in neighbouring Yemen.

King Salman took the throne after the death of his half-brother Abdullah, who was around 90 years old.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favour of his young son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is widely seen as the de facto ruler.

“There is no possibility whatsoever that the king will abdicate,” an unnamed Saudi official told Bloomberg News, adding that Saudi kings usually remain in power even when poor health prevents them from carrying out their responsibilities.

Prince Mohammed’s meteoric rise to power has coincided with a sweeping crackdown on critics and dissenters, as well as royal family members.

Saudi Arabia has been engulfed by a series of controversies since he was named crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.

That includes the brutal October 2018 murder of royal insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

 

 

AFP

Muslims Disappointed, But Accepting, As Saudi Scales Back Hajj

A picture taken June 23, 2020 shows a few worshippers performing al-Fajr prayer at the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque complex in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca. – Saudi Arabia has announced it will hold a “very limited” hajj this year, with pilgrims already in the kingdom allowed to perform the annual ritual as it moves to curb the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

 

Muslims expressed disappointment Tuesday at Saudi Arabia’s decision to scale back this year’s hajj pilgrimage, but many accepted it was necessary as the kingdom battles a major coronavirus outbreak.

Riyadh said Monday the hajj would be “very limited” with only pilgrims already in the country allowed to perform the ritual, marking the first time in modern Saudi history that foreign visitors have been barred.

The move had looked inevitable for some time and several countries had already pulled out, but the announcement nevertheless added to disappointment for Muslims who invest huge sums and face long waits to go on hajj.

“My hopes of going to (the holy Saudi city of Mecca) were so high,” said Kamariah Yahya, 68, from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which had already barred its citizens from the hajj earlier this month.

“I’ve been preparing for years. But what can I do? This is Allah’s will — it’s destiny.”

A group representing about 250 companies in Indonesia that organise Saudi pilgrimages said it understood that the five-day event, scheduled for the end of July, would be “too risky” at the moment.

But Syam Resfiadi, chairman of the Union of Hajj and Umrah Organisers, told AFP some of his group’s members had “started laying off employees or even shutting down their operations — they’ve had no income for months”.

A must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, the pilgrimage sees millions of people pack into congested religious sites and could have become a major source of virus transmission.

– ‘Shattered’ –
Shahadat Hossain Taslim, head of a group representing Bangladeshi hajj travel agencies, said “many people will be shattered” by the decision but it was for the best.

“Unlike other countries, the majority of Bangladeshi pilgrims are elderly people, and they are vulnerable to COVID-19,” he said.

In neighbouring India, the minister for minority affairs said more than 200,000 people had applied to go on hajj in 2020, and they would receive a full refund of any money deposited for the pilgrimage.

The hajj ministry in Saudi Arabia, where virus cases have surpassed 161,000, has said the pilgrimage will still be open to people of various nationalities already in the country but did not specify a number.

The decision will likely appease domestic pilgrims but it prompted renewed questions about Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites — the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has led to criticism of the kingdom’s management of the hajj.

Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, from charity the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organizations, said Muslim nations should have been allowed to take a “collective decision”, rather then it being left to Riyadh.

“It’s high time (the holy cities of Mecca and Medina) are managed by an international board represented by Muslim countries,” he told AFP.

The decision also risks annoying hardline Muslims, for whom religion may trump health concerns.

Despite the disappointment, some Muslims were already looking ahead to 2021 and hoping they would be able to perform the pilgrimage then.

“I’m still hoping to go on hajj next year, and pray that I’ll stay healthy until then,” said Yahya in Indonesia.

-AFP

Saudi Arabia Bars International Travellers From Hajj Over COVID-19

This file photo taken on March 05, 2020 shows the white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba, inside Mecca's Grand Mosque, empty of worshippers. ABDEL GHANI BASHIR / AFP
This file photo, taken on March 05, 2020. shows the white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba, inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, empty of worshippers. ABDEL GHANI BASHIR / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia on Monday announced it would hold a “very limited” hajj this year, excluding international travelers.

Only pilgrims already in the kingdom will be allowed to perform the annual ritual as it moves to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the Kingdom said.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, represents a major potential source of contagion as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.

But the decision to limit the hajj, scheduled for late July, is fraught with political and economic peril and comes after several Muslim nations pulled out of the ritual.

“It was decided to hold the pilgrimage this year with very limited numbers… with different nationalities in the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing the hajj ministry.

“This decision is taken to ensure the hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective… and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving lives.”

The decision to limit the event comes as Saudi Arabia struggles to contain a spike in infections, which have now risen to some 161,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.

But it risks annoying Muslim hardliners for whom religion trumps health concerns.

A watered-down hajj would also represent a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, which is already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.

The smaller year-round umrah pilgrimage was already suspended in March.

Together, they add $12 billion to the Saudi economy every year, according to government figures.

Monday’s announcement that Saudi Arabia will hold a limited hajj would likely disappoint millions of Muslim pilgrims around the world who often invest their life savings and endure long waiting lists to make the trip.

It could also trigger renewed scrutiny of the Saudi custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites — the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has prompted criticism of the kingdom’s management of the hajj.

A full-scale hajj, which last year drew about 2.5 million pilgrims, was unlikely after authorities advised Muslims in late March to defer preparations due to the fast-spreading disease.

Earlier this month, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, emerged as one of the first countries to withdraw from the pilgrimage after pressing Riyadh for clarity, with a minister calling it a “very bitter and difficult decision”.

Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore followed suit with similar announcements.

 

AFP

Saudi Faces Perilous Hajj Call As COVID-19 Spikes

This picture taken early on May 24, 2020 shows an Imam in a podium while Saudi security forces members, some clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, stand between rows of worshippers gathering before the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca to attend the prayers of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which starts at the conclusion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. AFP

 

Saudi Arabia is expected to scale back or call off this year’s hajj pilgrimage for the first time in its modern history, observers say, a perilous decision as coronavirus cases spike.

Muslim nations are pressing Riyadh to give its much-delayed decision on whether the annual ritual will go ahead as scheduled in late July.

But as the kingdom negotiates a call fraught with political and economic risks in a tinderbox region, time is running out to organise logistics for one of the world’s largest mass gatherings.

A full-scale hajj, which last year drew about 2.5 million pilgrims, appears increasingly unlikely after authorities advised Muslims in late March to defer preparations due to the fast-spreading disease.

“It’s a toss-up between holding a nominal hajj and scrapping it entirely,” a South Asian official in contact with Saudi hajj authorities told AFP.

A Saudi official told AFP: “The decision will soon be made and announced.”

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, withdrew from the pilgrimage this month after pressing Riyadh for clarity, with a minister calling it a “very bitter and difficult decision”.

Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore followed suit with similar announcements.

Many other countries with Muslim populations — from Egypt and Morocco to Turkey, Lebanon and Bulgaria — have said they are still awaiting Riyadh’s decision.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

In countries like France, faith leaders have urged Muslims to “postpone” their pilgrimage plans until next year due to the prevailing risks.

The hajj, a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, represents a major potential source of contagion as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.

But any decision to limit or cancel the event risks annoying Muslim hardliners for whom religion trumps health concerns.

It could also trigger renewed scrutiny of the Saudi custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites — the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has prompted criticism of the kingdom’s management of the hajj.

“Saudi Arabia is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” Umar Karim, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told AFP.

“The delay in announcing its decision shows it understands the political consequences of cancelling the hajj or reducing its scale.”

– ‘Buying time’ –

The kingdom is “buying time” as it treads cautiously, the South Asian official said.

“At the last minute if Saudi says ‘we are ready to do a full hajj’, (logistically) many countries will not be in a position” to participate, he said.

Amid an ongoing suspension of international flights, a reduced hajj with only local residents is a likely scenario, the official added.

A decision to cancel the hajj would be a first since the kingdom was founded in 1932.

Saudi Arabia managed to hold the pilgrimage during previous outbreaks of Ebola and MERS.

But it is struggling to contain the virus amid a serious spike in daily cases and deaths since authorities began easing a nationwide lockdown in late May.

In Saudi hospitals, sources say intensive care beds are fast filling up and a growing number of health workers are contracting the virus as the total number of cases has topped 130,000. Deaths surpassed 1,000 on Monday.

To counter the spike, authorities this month tightened lockdown restrictions in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the pilgrimage city of Mecca.

– ‘Heartbroken’ –

“The hajj is the most important spiritual journey in the life of any Muslim, but if Saudi Arabia proceeds in this scenario it will not only exert pressure on its own health system,” said Yasmine Farouk from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“It could also be widely held responsible for fanning the pandemic.”

A cancelled or watered-down hajj would represent a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, which is already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.

The smaller year-round umrah pilgrimage was already suspended in March.

Together, they add $12 billion to the Saudi economy every year, according to government figures.

A negative decision would likely disappoint millions of Muslim pilgrims around the world who often invest their life savings and endure long waiting lists to make the trip.

“I can’t help but be heartbroken — I’ve been waiting for years,” Indonesian civil servant Ria Taurisnawati, 37, told AFP as she sobbed.

“All my preparations were done, the clothes were ready and I got the necessary vaccination. But God has another plan.”

AFP

Saudi Arabia To End COVID-19 Curfew Next Month

A picture taken on March 26, 2020, shows Saudi policemen manning a checkpoint on King Fahd road in the capital Riyadh, after the Kingdom began implementing an 11-hour nationwide curfew, on the day of an emergency G20 videoconference, to discuss a response to the COVID-19 crisis. FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP.

 

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday it will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, after more than two months of stringent curbs.

Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the interior ministry said in a series of measures announced on state media.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait and the emirate of Dubai also moved to ease their lockdown measures, which together with a collapse in oil prices have pushed the region into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.

From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added. The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.

“Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing,” Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.

Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Heightens Heatwave Health Risks, UN Warns

In the United Arab Emirates, which has reported more than 30,000 cases and 248 deaths, authorities in Dubai moved to lift restrictions on businesses and shorten a nighttime curfew from Wednesday when the Eid holiday concludes.

Officials said late Monday that retail stores, gyms, cinemas and attractions like the dolphinarium will be allowed to reopen under social distancing and disinfection rules.

Kuwait, which has reported some 22,000 cases and 165 deaths, also said that it would end its total curfew this weekend, with reduced measures to be announced later.

– Questions over the hajj –

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, in March suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj — scheduled for late July — but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.

Mecca’s Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Kaaba — the large cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

But on Sunday, the first day of Eid, prayers went ahead and an imam stood on a podium while Saudi security forces, some wearing masks, positioned themselves between rows of worshippers — their prayer mats placed in well-spaced arcs.

AFP

Saudi Arabia Declares Eid al-Fitr To Start On Sunday

Saudis shop at the Panorama Mall in the capital Riyadh on May 22, 2020, as Muslims prepare to celebrate the upcoming Eid al-Fitr, that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP
Saudis shop at the Panorama Mall in the capital Riyadh on May 22, 2020, as Muslims prepare to celebrate the upcoming Eid al-Fitr, that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP

 

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, will begin on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, authorities in the kingdom said on Friday.

“Saturday will be the last day of the sacred holy month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr will take place on Sunday,” the royal court and the supreme court said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Religious authorities in Jerusalem, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Libya and Lebanon also said that Eid would begin on Sunday.

The timing of Eid is determined by the position of the moon, in accordance with the Muslim lunar calendar.

The holiday is normally celebrated by families gathering together.

But most Muslim majority countries around the world have called on their citizens to limit their movement and face to face contact during this year’s celebrations, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia, home to the world’s most holy Muslim sites, has put in place a full curfew for the holiday period, after easing some of its restrictive measures during Ramadan.

The kingdom is the most affected country in the Gulf, according to declared data, with more than 67,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 364 deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease.

FG Evacuates 292 Stranded Nigerians From Saudi Arabia

File photo of Nigerians who were stranded in the UK during their arrival in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

The Federal Government has evacuated 292 Nigerians who were stranded in Saudi Arabia due to the lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flight conveying the evacuees arrived late on Tuesday night at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja.

READ ALSO: 160 Stranded Nigerians Return From U.S.

Their arrival was announced on Wednesday morning by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama via his official Twitter handle.

 

He said a large number of the evacuees are nursing mothers and children.

“We received 292 evacuees stranded in Saudi Arabia yesterday. The Saudi Government transported them to Abuja. A large number are nursing mothers and children and they are all comfortably settled in hotels under the mandatory 14 days quarantine. #COVID19 #PTFCOVID19,” Onyeama tweeted.

The Federal Government, as part of its efforts to evacuate Nigerians who are stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic evacuated no fewer than 300 Nigerians from the UK about two weeks ago.

A total of 160 Nigerians were also evacuated from the United States and 256 others from Dubai.

Saudi To Enforce 24-hour COVID-19 Curfew At Eid Holiday

Health workers perform nose swab tests during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP.

 

Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus, the interior ministry said Tuesday, as infections spike.

The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf region, is scrambling to limit the spread of the deadly disease.

A full lockdown will be reimposed around the country from May 23-27, the ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency. The period coincides with the Muslim festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Most parts of the kingdom were put under full lockdown following the outbreak, but last month the government relaxed the curfew between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Malls and retailers have been allowed to reopen, except in major hotspots including the holy city of Mecca — where confirmed cases have soared, despite a stringent lockdown.

The health ministry said Tuesday the number of COVID-19 deaths had risen to 264 and confirmed infections to 42,925, while 15,257 people have recovered.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam’s holiest cities.

READ ALSO: Europe Steps Up Reopening, Unveils Plans For Summer Travel

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj — scheduled for late July — but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.

The Arab world’s biggest economy has also closed cinemas and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.

King Salman has warned of a “more difficult” fight ahead against COVID-19, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

AFP

Saudi Relaxes COVID-19 Lockdown Except In Hotspot Mecca

An aerial view shows the Grand Mosque and its surrounding, deserted on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, on April 24, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP.

 

Saudi Arabia on Sunday partially eased a 24-hour curfew in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic, except for in hotspots including the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

The curfew will be relaxed between 9am and 5pm and malls and retailers will be allowed to reopen in all regions of the kingdom until May 13, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

But a round-the-clock lockdown will be maintained in some areas including Mecca, which has reported the kingdom’s highest number of infections in recent days despite being sealed off.

Many countries around the Middle East and North Africa have announced a similar easing of lockdown restrictions as Muslims mark the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Arab world, is scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home.

On Saturday the health ministry said deaths from the respiratory illness had risen to 136, while confirmed infections rose to 16,299 with 2,215 people reported to have recovered from the illness.

Last month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam’s holiest cities.

READ ALSO: China Seizes Over 89 Million Poor Quality Face Masks

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once in their lives if able.

The Arab world’s biggest economy has also closed cinemas, malls and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.

King Salman has warned of a “more difficult” fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic impact of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

Saudi Arabia Abolishes Court-Ordered Floggings

A woman is publicly flogged in front of a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh on April 20, 2018. PHOTO: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP
A woman is publicly flogged in front of a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh on April 20, 2018. PHOTO: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, the supreme court announced, hailing the latest in a series of “human rights advances” made by the king and his powerful son.

Court-ordered floggings in Saudi Arabia — sometimes extending to hundreds of lashes — have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

But they say the headline legal reforms overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have brought no let-up in the conservative Islamic kingdom’s crushing of dissent, including through the use of the death penalty.

The Saudi supreme court said the latest reform was intended to “bring the kingdom into line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment”.

Previously the courts could order the flogging of convicts found guilty of offences ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder.

In future, judges will have to choose between fines and/or jail sentences, or non-custodial alternatives like community service, the court said in a statement seen by AFP on Saturday.

The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 for “insulting” Islam.

He was awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov human rights prize the following year.

The abolition of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight following news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activist Abullah al-Hamid, 69.

Hamid was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013, campaigners said.

He was convicted on multiple charges, including “breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security, Amnesty International said.

Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has grown since King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.

The October 2018 murder of vocal critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the increased repression of dissidents at home have overshadowed the prince’s pledge to modernise the economy and society.

 

AFP

Saudi Arabia Announces Ramadan Starts Friday Amid COVID-19 Fears

Muslim devotees offer prayers on the first night of Ramadan, in Bireuen of Aceh province on April 23, 2020. AMANDA JUFRIAN / AFP
Muslim devotees offer prayers on the first night of Ramadan, in Bireuen of Aceh province, Indonesia, on April 23, 2020. AMANDA JUFRIAN / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, has announced that the holy fasting month of Ramadan will start Friday, as Muslims worldwide face unprecedented restrictions to counter coronavirus.

“Based on the sighting of the new month’s moon … it has been decided that Friday is the start of the month of Ramadan,” the royal court said Thursday in a statement cited by the SPA news agency.

King Salman said he is saddened that Muslims cannot pray at mosques because of coronavirus restrictions.

“I am pained that the holy month arrives amid circumstances that make us unable to perform group prayers and Taraweeh — special Ramadan night prayers — at mosques due to precautionary measures to protect the peoples’ lives and health in combating the coronavirus pandemic,” the king said in a statement cited by SPA.

Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk during Ramadan and gather with family to break the fast in the evening.

It is also a month of prayers during which Muslims traditionally converge in large numbers at mosques especially at night.

But due to the coronavirus, almost all Muslim majority countries have closed mosques and asked people to pray at home in addition to imposing curfews to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

Several Arab countries have eased restrictions on the occasion of the holy month with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other countries reducing the duration of the lockdowns.

The UAE said on Thursday it has decided to ease a total lockdown to an eight-hour nightly curfew and also moved to partially reopen malls and markets.

The start date of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month, is set by both lunar calculations and physical sightings which determine when one month ends and another begins.

 

AFP