At least 18 Egyptian pilgrims have died at the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Egypt’s Ministry of Health has announced, as millions of Muslims descend upon the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
A statement from the ministry identified the latest casualty as 62 year-old Rassmia Mahmoud Ali Mohamed from Qena governorate, who had been selected as part of the pilgrimage lottery system operated by the Interior Ministry. She died of a heart attack after being crushed in heavy crowds on Wednesday.
The eldest casualty so far has been an 87-year-old woman and the youngest a 43-year-old man. Deaths from heat exhaustion, fatigue and heart attacks are common during Hajj as between two and four million Muslims stay just outside the city of Makkah to conduct religious rituals and prayer in Mina, Muzdalifah, Arafat and the Holy City itself.
Some 78,000 Egyptians are believed to making the pilgrimage this year, 36,000 of whom are travelling via tourism companies. The others make making the trip as part of the state’s lottery system and Egyptian civil society programmes.
Last year, 110 Egyptian pilgrims died during the pilgrimage season, 105 of whom were in Makkah at the time of death. In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage. Some 100 people had died earlier in the month after a crane being used for construction at the Grand Mosque in Makkah crashed over.
Over the Hajj period, Saudi Arabia deploys around 100,000 security personnel and 17,000 civil defence employees to ensure the pilgrims’ safety. The religious tourism industry is also the backbone of a plan to expand general tourism under a drive to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil. The Hajj and year-round Umrah pilgrimages generate billions of dollars in revenue from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and shopping.