Saudi's Dirty Secrets
Pollution of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a concept frequently condemned by the Wahhabi sect that enjoys a position as the state religion in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. According to the Wahhabis, "pollution" consists of practices hated by them but established in traditional Islam for centuries, such as blessings directed to the Prophet Muhammad in his shrine in Medina. Because of this, Wahhabi preachers rail against Sufi and Shia Muslims who make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Saudi morals patrols known as the mutawiyin harass and physically assault the traditionalists, and hajj visitors find their prayerbooks and related literature confiscated by mutawiyin acting as border guards and customs inspectors.
As so often under the rule of tyrannical and ideological regimes, the spectre summoned up by the Wahhabi authorities to legitimise their abuses turns out to be embodied practically in the actions of the Saudi rulers. Wahhabi-Saudi functionaries have continuously vandalised holy Mecca under the pretext of renovating it, to such an extreme that the water of the sacred well at Zamzam no longer flows plentifully and clearly.
And tragically, today the streets and residential quarters of Mecca have become filled with sewage. This is not only a moral and social catastrophe for the Meccans and for all Muslims who treasure the city, but also stands as a symbol of the corruption the house of Saud has imposed on its subjects.
Mecca lacks the necessary infrastructure, including sufficient vehicles for sewage disposal, to clean its streets. As if Mecca had never benefited from civic improvements, which were extensive under the Ottoman predecessors of the Wahhabi-Saudi misrulers, its inhabitants must dispose of sewage on their own, around their homes. Meccans are alarmed at the spread of stagnant water as an environment for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
How is this possible in a country that is so rich from oil wealth it cannot qualify for western economic aid, as other Muslim and formerly-colonised countries do?
One element of an accurate explanation comes from the mouth of Mecca's deputy mayor for services, Abdul Salam Mashshat, who as cited in the daily Arab News, simply denied that mosquitoes in sewer water would carry fatal infections. According to this specimen of Saudi urban planning, mosquitoes prefer to multiply in clean water. The city representative therefore rejected a medical fact known to every informed person in the world. A Saudi physician correctly noted that mosquitoes living in water polluted by human waste carry malaria, dengue fever, and typhoid fever.
Mashshat, however, had further recourse to denial as a political weapon embedded in Saudi culture. He threatened Meccans by declaring that those who allowed sewage water to accumulate would suffer by a cutoff of their electric power. The denial of clean water and health standards leads to a denial of other services in the Saudi wonderland.
But "denial" is, to borrow a common jibe, more than the name of a river in Egypt. The Nile may flow through that ancient land, but denial has been the preferred form of statecraft in the Saudi kingdom since the Wahhabis seized Mecca and Medina more than 85 years ago.
Arab media are slowly moving away from the culture of denial. Regarding the sewage disposal crisis in Mecca, Arab News also quoted a Meccan named Ahmad al-Zain who complained of the lack of a sewage system in the neighbourhood of al-Awali. Al-Zain said he considered the payment of 100-120 Saudi riyals (£17.50) to sewage truck drivers a worthwhile investment for protection of his children's health. But he also pointed out that sewage trucks and direct dumping of sewage in the streets are the only alternatives available to the Meccans. Nobody in the city administration or among the royal authorities has proposed to install sewers in the district he inhabits.
Saudi King Abdullah wishes to introduce social and political reforms that would make his country, which many people consider the leader of the Muslim world, more normal. In the lands that border it, from Kuwait to Yemen, ridiculous Wahhabi strictures such as the ban on women driving cars, and requirement that women put on the niqab or face veil when they go outdoors, both enforced by the mutawiyin, do not exist. Yemen is obviously far from being comparable to a western democracy in terms of prosperity or institutions, yet it has not abandoned itself to the radical fantasies of the Wahhabis. King Abdullah is obstructed on his reforming course by the denial exercised over him by Wahhabis in his family no less than by the hardline faction of Wahhabi clerics.
It is time for Saudi Arabia's rulers to wake up to their social crisis and find solutions to it. Otherwise, the rising tide of polluted water will breed terrorists no less than typhoid.