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Tunisian President dismisses Religious Affairs Minister after hajj deaths

Tunisian President dismisses Religious Affairs Minister after hajj deaths Tunisian President Kais Saied takes the oath of office in Tunis, Tunisia, October 23, 2019. (Reuters)
By Newsroom
Jun 22, 2024 12:29 AM

President Kais Saied of Tunisia has dismissed Ibrahim Chaibi, the minister of religious affairs, following the deaths of 49 Tunisian pilgrims during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The announcement came in a statement from the presidency on Friday, shared via Facebook. The statement did not provide specific reasons for Chaibi’s dismissal.

The tragedy has cast a shadow over the annual Islamic pilgrimage, with the Tunisian foreign ministry initially reporting 35 deaths among their citizens earlier this week, a number that has since risen to 49, according to local media reports. The ministry did not confirm if the deaths were due to the extreme heat conditions experienced in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj.

Most of the deceased Tunisians had traveled to Saudi Arabia using tourist visas rather than participating in the official Hajj program sanctioned by the Saudi government. This unofficial route, though less costly, bypasses the quota system and the official permits allocated to countries, distributed via lottery.

The cost savings associated with these irregular routes have become increasingly attractive, especially since Saudi Arabia began issuing general tourist visas in 2019.

Chaibi, prior to his removal, stated that the majority of the fatalities were among those who traveled outside the official pilgrimage program. His sacking has drawn attention and criticism, particularly from social media activists in Tunisia, who accused him of insensitivity for posting photos of himself performing Hajj while the deaths were being reported.

The Hajj pilgrimage, one of Islam’s five pillars, is a religious duty that must be undertaken by all Muslims who are physically and financially able to do so at least once in their lives. This year, approximately 1.8 million pilgrims participated, with 1.6 million coming from abroad, according to Saudi officials.

The high number of fatalities is not isolated to Tunisia. Deaths have also been reported among pilgrims from Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, and Sudan. The soaring temperatures in Mecca, which reached 51.8 degrees Celsius, claimed the lives of over 900 people.

A recent Saudi study indicated that temperatures in the region are rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade, which may contribute to the hazardous conditions faced by pilgrims.

Last Updated:  Jun 22, 2024 2:02 AM