Egypt orders to revoke licenses from Hajj tourism companies over illegal pilgrimages amid reports of hundreds of deaths

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The Egyptian government is to revoke the licenses of 16 Hajj tourism companies involved in making illegal pilgrimages to Mecca and will refer the company’s managers to the public prosecutor.

The decision was made in a cabinet meeting on Saturday after a report highlighted the dubious nature of how some tourism companies operate and comes after hundreds of pilgrims from across the world died in sweltering heat.

The official toll among Egyptians stands at 31, but it is being reported by Reuters news agency and other outlets that as many as 500 to 600 Egyptians died during the pilgrimage. A CNN tally puts the total dead from Hajj at nearly 500 but the figure is likely to rise.
The report, which was reviewed by cabinet, said some operators had not issued correct visas, so holders could not enter the holy city of Mecca and were instead forced to enter “through desert paths on foot.” It also accused some companies of failing to provide proper accommodation, leaving tourists exposed to the heat.

In the meeting, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly offered his “sincere condolences and sympathy” to the families of the deceased pilgrims committing to providing them with the necessary support.

Hajj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and Saudi Arabia requires each pilgrim to acquire one of the 1.8 million available licenses to legally access Mecca.

But as the cost of one of these licences costs several thousand US dollars, many pilgrims try to access the site illegally and typically don’t travel in organized tour buses with air conditioning or easy access to water and food supplies.

The timing of the Hajj is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar which this year has fallen during scorching temperatures in Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims made this year’s journey in extreme temperatures of up to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Ahmed, a 44-year-old from Indonesia, told CNN he saw many people falling ill and even dying from the heat.

“Along the way home, I saw many pilgrims who died. Almost every few hundred meters, there was a body lying and covered with an ihrom [white fabric] cloth.”

“Every time there is a distribution of water from local residents or certain groups, it is immediately overrun by the pilgrims,” he added, saying that he didn’t see health workers or a single ambulance along the road.

As part of the pilgrimage, the faithful perform a series of rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca, often involving many hours of walking in the scorching heat every day.

The exact death toll for the total number of deaths in this year’s Hajj remains unclear and the number is expected to rise as each country has been independently announcing the deaths of their nationals.

Additionally, the governments are only aware of pilgrims who have registered and travelled to Mecca as part of their country’s quota – more deaths are feared among unregistered pilgrims.

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