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Will this year's Hajj have an ‘Arab Spring’ effect?
Tens of thousands of pilgrims perform the evening prayer at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Wednesday.
November 4th, 2011
07:57 AM ET

Will this year's Hajj have an ‘Arab Spring’ effect?

By Dan Gilgoff and Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) - The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is the world's largest gathering of Muslims - the biggest annual gathering of humanity, period.

So it's no surprise that Middle East experts expect this year's pilgrimage, the first to happen since the Arab Spring began last year, to be different.

The pilgrimage, called the Hajj, happens in the same global neighborhood as countries that have been roiled by protests, revolutions and war over the last 11 months.

But there's uncertainty about exactly how this Hajj, which officially begins Friday, will be different.

Some experts are watching for potential flare-ups in Saudi Arabia, a country governed by an unelected royal family and where freedoms are limited. They note that ordinary Saudis will be rubbing shoulders with Arabs making pilgrimages from countries that have staged anti-government demonstrations and have unseated long-entrenched regimes.

"This idea of freedom and dignity is spreading like wildfire, and at a gathering like the Hajj it's conceivable that the electricity coming from these ideas will be picked up," says Akbar Ahmed, the chair of Islamic Studies at American University. "This is what scares the Saudi bureaucracy."

"There are thousands of pilgrims who want to topple the established order of the Saudi monarchy," he says.

But Ahmed and others say the Hajj's effects on the Arab Spring are just as likely to be much broader, as many pilgrims share notes on uprisings and overthrows before returning home to countries ruled by despots.

"This is a venue where you can come into contact with hundreds of thousands of people, so for people who are coming from these newly liberated lands, it is a bit much to ask to say absolutely nothing about it," says Kelly Pemberton, an assistant professor at The George Washington University who studies Islamic reform movements.

"Many people are going to see this (Arab Spring) as a sign of God's favor," she says.

At the same time, experts on the region note that the Hajj is a solemn religious event that is physically and spiritually demanding and that affords little time for politicking, raising doubts in some scholars' minds about the magnitude of a Hajj effect on the Arab Spring.

The Saudis haven't announced special security measures for this year's Hajj.

But the event, which draws roughly 2.5 million pilgrims, has long been managed with military precision, and scholars say the government there has been preparing for months for its first Arab Spring-era Hajj.

"They'll be on guard for a flashpoint moment or a riot, something that flares up and becomes something," says Ahmed, referring to Saudi security forces. "In Tunisia, one man set himself on fire and three months later the Egyptian president is toppled."

There has been political violence during the Hajj in the past, most notably in the 1980s, on the heels of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini's followers attempted to disrupt the pilgrimage throughout the '80s, though their plots were repeatedly quashed by Saudi security forces.

In 1987, however, Iranian pilgrims incited a riot that killed more than 400 people, according to globalsecuity.org, a stark illustration of the rift between Shiite-ruled Iran and Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has not seen the kind of protests now roiling countries like Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, but people there lack many basic freedoms. Political participation is limited.

The Saudi government has been politically sensitive to its people since the outset of the Arab Spring, spending billions on domestic programs aimed at improving the lot of its citizenry.

And scholars say that Saudi Arabia has supported anti-government forces in some Arab countries, including rebels in Libya and protestors in Syria.

"I can't image anybody is going to show up in Mecca denouncing the royal family," says Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan. "A lot of people going to Hajj will be connected with the (Egypt-based) Muslim Brotherhood, which has longstanding good relations with the Saudis."

Some experts speculate that Saudi Arabia, which tightly controls the numbers of pilgrims allowed to attend Hajj from each country, is reducing its quotas from certain politically unstable countries to curb the influence of would-be revolutionaries.

The U.S. embassies in Egypt and Tunisia, two countries that have seen their governments overthrown this year, did not immediately reply to requests Thursday for statistics on slots for pilgrims granted by Saudi Arabia.

Some scholars say the governments of other Arab countries are likely to be reducing the number of pilgrims allowed to attend Hajj in Saudi Arabia this year.

"The leaders of Syria, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia are somewhat worried about the Hajj providing a forum for people to trade ideas and strategies and coming home to pick up protests and really find the momentum to get things going," says Pemberton of George Washington University.

Since late last year, some Muslim religious happenings in the Arab world have become forums for anti-government activity.

In Egypt, Friday afternoon prayers - the most significant prayers of the week for Muslims - served as catalysts for the biggest anti-government demonstrations of the revolution.

When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt, the announcement came on a Friday, hours after Egypt's Muslims had observed afternoon prayers.

In Libya, rebels reached a turning point in a six-month old civil during Ramadan of this year, when evening prayers at mosques helped ordinary people organize against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

With Gadhafi dead, more Libyans may get to attend this year's Hajj than in years past. Other post-revolution Arab countries may send a more diverse mix of pilgrims.

"The biggest effect is the allocation of Hajj visas," said Asim Khwaja, a Harvard University professor specializing in international development. "Some countries did a lottery, some did rationing, and with the government changes, if countries were doing rationing in the past, you can imagine they were sending friends and officials."

"Now there may be a more egalitarian mix," Khwaja says. "This will be a more democratic Hajj for the Arab world."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Islam

soundoff (1,060 Responses)
  1. Bill

    Hey it's a community that believes in something sacred. How odd.

    But we're too busy feeling cool for making fun of the concept of God while standing at the altar of the church of Science.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Well you said it, it's just a concept that people just put faith in no matter how ridiculous; whereas science is tested and theories discarded when they fail.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  2. beast

    oh yea and jerusalem is not occupied it belongs to israel and will always be in there hands

    November 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • iknow

      Yes idiot! America was home for Indians but some losers occupied the land and now they called it United States.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • ram

      iknow nice one hahaha teach this idoit a lesson

      November 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • angelic

      jerusalem is occupied, u r a christian so start acting like one! don't turn a blind eye for the truth mate!!!!

      November 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  3. flobaeker

    Religion is mythology believed.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Bofusabode

    Why is CNN spot lighting islam? CNN's leaders little barry and ole faithful HC did such a great job in Egypt and Lybia. Why does CNN praise those who want to destroy this great country and the Jewish State? It is past time to draw the line in the sand.
    For God and Country

    November 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Why does CNN spot light Christmas every year around the 25th? Flippin moron.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • phil

      Please don't have children.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • hindunegative

      State does not mean a country but environment and Islam is about cleansing of hindu filty state environment of the world, to eliminate parasites of hindusim illagality is not a crime but some thing of noble nature.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  5. WoI Admin

    Interesting!

    November 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • oneSTARman

      WORD

      November 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  6. Return To God

    Jesus, peace upon him, is best described and understood in the Quran. God said “Verily, the likeness of 'Îsa (Jesus) before Allah (God) is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: "Be!" – and he was. (Chapter #3, Verse #59).
    Jesus (PUH) was described and mentioned more than 33 times in the Quran. Also, Miriam (May God be please with her) was described in Quran close to 40 times and there is one Chapter that is called” Miriam”
    Here are additional verses;
    "And indeed, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers. And We gave 'Îsa (jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), clear signs and supported him with Ruh-ul-Qudus (Gabriel) .Is it that whenever there came to you a Messenger with what you yourselves desired not, you grew arrogant? Some you disbelieved and some you killed.
    ( Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #87)
    (Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word ["Be!" – and he was! i.e. 'Îsa (jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)] from Him, his name will be the Messiah 'Îsa (jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah."
    ( Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #45)
    And will make him [('Îsa (jesus)] a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, a figure like that of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allah's Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe.
    ( , Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #49)

    November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • oneSTARman

      There IS No GOD but GOD – ALL The Children of that GOD – the inhabitants of THIS Planet and ANY LIFE ANY WHERE who seek their SOURCE seek the Same GOD.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • ceyan

      Pass.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • mag

      onestarman, your caps are broken. sometimes they are activated and sometimes they are not. You need to bring your keyboard in for repair.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • BigBang

      Does anybody have a spare tentpeg handy? Please nail this guys head to the ground. Judges 4:21

      November 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Spanish Inquisition

    I wonder if the Pope has a button available "report abuse" ! ???

    November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  8. Sorkh Razil

    Perfect time to send a few ICBMs

    November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • midogs2

      There always has to be one bonehead to post a comment like the one you just posted. Congratulations, idiot.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  9. Father Dan

    @DeeNYC Who, me?!

    November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  10. oneSTARman

    MECCA Does NOT Belong to One FAMILY of TYRANTS. It Belongs to the World. The Same could be said of JERUSALEM. It must be that BOTH of These Cities come under the Protection and Jurisdiction of the United Nations of the Planet. The TENS OF MILLIONS of Yemeni and the 'Saudi Arabian People NOT the SAUDI ROYAL FAMILY – Which was 'Given' Arabia by Europe deserve the WEALTH under the Arabian sands.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  11. ZioOwnTheUsa

    Misrepresenting Islamic law and values is something the west have become experts in ... In all countries, people in power have misused its laws .. Look at the US, are Guantanamo, torture, and imprisonment without trial democratic values? well, using your logic yes it is very democratic ... which is as worse as dictatorship .. in fact, it is what makes the dictator a dictator!!!! now go sell your democracy somewhere else .. we are all for Islamic states .. Long live Islamocracy 🙂

    November 4, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Varun

      I'm sure your wife is taking well to not being able to drive.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • gibs richards

      not im my life time

      November 6, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  12. Jason

    What a great time/place for about 100 MOABs.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • ZioOwnTheUsa

      Yea how about FOAB on ur head.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • American_Fury

      Jason you read my mind my friend. The MOAB is an excellent choice.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  13. beast

    nah ill be in heaven with the one and only jesus christ

    November 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • ProudMuslim

      People wil gather around Jesus and say " lord we cast out demons in your name......." and Jesus will say "be gone, I do not know you".

      November 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • DeeNYC

      How are you going to explain that you followed the guidance of child molesters?

      November 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      You hope. Doesn't your god preach love and respect for others? Wouldn't attacking Muslims on a message board go against that? Just saying...

      November 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  14. ProudMuslim

    One day those who bad-mouth Islam and Muslims will be in Mecca, God willing, saying.. Lord here we are.....you have no partners......

    November 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jesus is Lord

      Jesus is the only true way to salvation. The Koran is full of lies from the deceiver himself. I will pray for your soul that you come to know Jesus, who is love unconditional. All will bow down before Him at the end of the world

      November 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • john

      You sound like one of those new inductees/convert in to the religion of peace (sarcasm)...Aren't you the ones we should keep an eye on? From what I've seen hate 101 is the first lesson

      November 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • American_Fury

      proudmuslim – what kind of screen name is that? You and your muslim brotherhood have nothing to be proud of, at all. You're religion is a hoax. Most of your people are uneducated. You love to beat and repress all women, because you certainly can't beat anyone else. Mano y mano you got no chance cupcake The entire world is on to you now and your time on his earth is very limited. Oh... and no virgins are waiting either, that was the most ridiculous part of the entire islamic hoax. Who would fall for that line anyway? So funny. We won't be sad to see you go that's for sure. Enjoy your ride to hell..

      November 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • hindunegative

      Word Jesus is hinduism absurdity of hindus absurd, hindu corrupted form of name of son of blessed Nary son, his given name was Easu in Hebrew, Annoited one not Jesus in hinduism fabrication. J is added to make him a Jew but he was a Hebrew,a is deleted and s is added for polarity, as sign of respect , Jesus word not being word of any language and having no meanings. hinduism absurdity of Egyptian hindus pagans pretending to be his follower of son of blessed May but follower of Pharoahnic Mithraism, savior ism labeled as Christian in trinity deception.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • G'wan

      Jesus is Lord: Again... "My imaginary superhero is better than your imaginary superhero."

      November 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • BigBang

      I'd rather chew on tinfoil.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • angelic

      i rather burn in hell than utter those words. a God is supposed to be caring, just and most importantly LOVING: three qualities that allah lacks!!!!!

      November 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  15. beast

    ilsam teaches hate i know the meaning have read the book any book that says the jews have earned allah wrath is not peaceful thank you

    November 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • ProudMuslim

      Beast ...The Bible condemns the Jews much more than the Qur'an. Be a human and do some reading...

      November 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • LKJ

      What the Qur'an says, regarding the Jews and others, is that anyone who actively goes against God's will deserves to be punished. Do you disagree?

      November 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Jason

      ProudMuslim..... not sure what Bible you are talking about. The Bible tells followers to treat Jews as we would treat him. Thing that you do to/for them, you are doing for him. That is not exactly hate speach. That is why Israel will always have the support of the USA as long as a majority of its citizens are Christians. On a side note, it is not only biblical for the USA to support Israel, but it is just plain common sense. If we didn't, the Arabs would wipe them off the face of the planet. Having said that, reading the Bible lets me know that, that will never happen. On the flip side, Middle East Peace is a farce and will never happen.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • CC GWRider

      "The Bible condemns the Jews much more than the Qur'an. Be a human and do some reading..."

      Now that statement is classic comedy. Burnt Pot, please shake hands with Black Kettle.

      The "old testament" of the bible was written BY Jews FOR Jews. The "new testament" of the bible was written BY Jews FOR the reformation of the Jewish religion. It certainly gets tiresome seeing bigoted and ignorant people constantly trying to equate modern Christianity with modern Islam. They're apples and oranges.

      Now that I've posted such politically incorrect statements, go ahead and flame away. I don't read the replies, anyway.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • mag

      yes, i agree that the bible does not instruct to kill jews. but, there are really stupid christians who hate jews because they are convinced that the jews killed jesus.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  16. COOL MAN

    HAJJ is away from POLITICS, especially US politics

    November 4, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  17. Nacho1

    Hopefully not.....there are enough problems in the middle east already........Saudi Arabia has been a good friend of ours.........we need to keep it that way. We don't have many friends in the middle east due to our present administration's foreign policies.

    November 4, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Ray

      yes, the saudi's are just wonderful. the fact that most of the 911 hijackers were from there and despite the fact that they have the worst human rights violations in the world means nothing....

      November 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • LKJ

      The Saudi monarchy is awful and needs to be replaced. I hope that happens within my lifetime because I'd like to make hajj without being under their thumb.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • bosmonkey

      Nacho1 you sound unintelligent making that blanket statement. This current administration has little or nothing to do with how the U.S. is percieved in the Middle East. Conservatives liek you will use whatever the topic is that is being discussed to bash Obama. Lame.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • mag

      yes saudi arabia is our friend. they tell the masses that it is america's fault that they are poor. and, because muslims are stupid, they believe what they are told. But, of course, the saudis only tell the masses that its america's fault that they are poor and miserable to allow them to keep stealing from their people and keep increasing their wealth. muslims, being stupid, cannot see that the rich saudis are using them and blaming america and the dumb muslims beleive it.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  18. waycist

    Will the Haj have an Arab Spring effect?
    I certainly hope so,,,The Arab Spring has put hard liners in charge of every nation it has touched,,,and anything that keeps muslims groveling in the dirt, penniless and ignorant is a total win.

    November 4, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  19. Din

    Hajj is very busy event where about 3 million people in remembrance of prophet Ibrahim ( a.k.a. Abraham) and his wife as ordered by God running between 2 mountains, sacrificing animals on 10th day, stoning symbolic satan who tried to deceive Ibrahim. They will really not have time to involve in any of the politically driven event.

    November 4, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Incrediboy

      Abraham can't hold a candle to Jesus Christ, who died for us so sins could be forgiven. Not sure what Abraham did.

      November 4, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Ray

      no.....rioting and terrorism are reserved for Fridays after mosque...

      November 4, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • hippypoet

      @Incrediboy do you believe in jesus christ? if so he said know the old testement – if he did what you are supposed to do as ordered by your savior then you'd know all about the importance of abraham and his sons!

      November 4, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • HNZ

      Din,

      Per my understanding, Haj provides a platform for Muslims from different countries to get together and perform thier prayers and discuss current issues (religious and political). Since the people are grouped by their countries, very little or no politics are discussed as most of the people are very much dedicated to perform prayers. If any politcs are discussed, we should not be surpirsed or shocked as it was one of the purposes of Haj.

      November 4, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • wisdom

      Masha ALLAAH, keep up the good work.

      November 4, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • G'wan

      Incrediboy - Don't you know that you sound just like this: "My imaginary superhero is better than your imaginary superhero"!

      There is not a shred of verified evidence for any supernatural beings.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  20. Naj

    Read the article and all the comments. All I can say is the how ignorant the US media and people are.

    November 4, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      The media, I'll agree with you on. But not eveyone posting is American, so your blanket statement is just more annoying xenophbia. But that's ok, because bashing Americans is so on trend, isn't it? Cute.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.