Egypt Independent

Egypt: Saudi’s Umra crisis not related to Mubarak trial



Recent complaints from hundreds of Egyptian travelers who said they were mistreated during Ramadan pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia for Umra were not prompted by the kingdom's opposition to the trial of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, a Saudi tourism official said Friday.

In statements to Al-Masry Al-Youm, Deputy Minister of Tourism Hany Wadee said the recent delays in  the flights of Umra pilrims and overcrowding at Jeddah Airport were not in any way connected to Mubarak's trial.

He said that the statements of some Egyptian pilgrims alleging they were harassed by Saudi airport officials represent individual cases and not a general trend.

The ministry’s monitoring department has not received any complaints from returnees regarding their treatment at Jeddah International Airport, he said. He added that any requests for compensations are the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry.

He attributed the delays to a 35-40 percent increase in the number of Umra pilgrims this year compared to 2010.

On Sunday, hundreds of Egyptians protested in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo, blaming Riyadh for interfering in Egypt's internal affairs following the uprising that toppled Mubarak in February.

“We demand the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador to Egypt,” read a large banner posted in front of the embassy.

Thousands of Egyptians were stranded, some for several days, in Jeddah last week after ending their pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

They accused Saudi's airline and airport authorities of  failing to arrange a sufficient number of flights to transport them back home for the Eid holiday following the end of the rituals. 

Nabawia Mohamed, one of the protesters in front of the embassy, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that she lost her luggage in Jeddah airport due what she called negligence.

“What made my experience in Saudi Arabia even worse was when a Saudi policeman slapped me in the face while I was performing the Umra rituals in Mecca,” she added.  

Upon returning home, many of the pilgrims complained of mistreatment and humiliation at the airport. Some said they were forced to wait outside the airport building without food or water under the scorching sun.

A few claimed that Saudi airport officials were bitter toward Egyptians for deposing Mubarak.

Some returnees refused to leave the Saudi planes upon their arrival at Cairo Airport, threatening to stage sit-ins to demand an apology and compensation.

Saudi officials denied any mistreatment or that flight delays were limited to Egyptians alone.

They attributed the flight delays to the high season and blamed Egyptian pilgrims for failing to confirm their return bookings.