Third Expansion of Grand Mosque Launched by King Abdullah, Completed by King Salman

King Salman bin Abdulaziz is briefed on the expansion project in May 2015. (SPA)
King Salman bin Abdulaziz is briefed on the expansion project in May 2015. (SPA)
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Third Expansion of Grand Mosque Launched by King Abdullah, Completed by King Salman

King Salman bin Abdulaziz is briefed on the expansion project in May 2015. (SPA)
King Salman bin Abdulaziz is briefed on the expansion project in May 2015. (SPA)

The third expansion of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah was its largest in history. Throughout the centuries, the expansions would focus on raising the capacity of worshippers. The central Mataf area has maintained its size over the years given the limited space available to expand it, so focus would often turn to the surrounding structures.

In 2005, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ordered that a study be made over expanding the capacity at the Grand Mosque to receive more worshippers and Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

The expansion was implemented with the addition of four floors to the al-Masaa area to accommodate 120,000 people per hour. The Mataf area was expanded to accommodate 105,000 people per hour. The northern building of the Grand Mosque was expanded to accommodate more worshippers and the number of columns throughout was reduced to make more space for people and combat crowding.

Foundation

In August 2011, King Abdullah laid the foundation for the greatest expansion in the Grand Mosque’s history. The expansion was not only the most expensive and most expansive in terms of accommodating more worshippers, but the most advanced architecturally and technically and on the health, security and sustainable levels.

The King Abdullah expansion project included expanding the main building of the Grand Mosque, the Masaa and Mataf areas and outer courtyards, increasing the number of bridges and constructing central services and security buildings. It also called for the construction of a central hospital and pedestrian tunnels, transportation stations and bridges that lead to the Grand Mosques. Infrastructure improvements related to electricity, water storage, sanitation and others, were also introduced.

The project utilized the best advanced systems available in saving energy, as well as lighting and sound systems, air conditioning, fire alarms and surveillance cameras. Five power generation stations were built, and the best ventilation systems were put in place.

The King Abdullah zamzam project was inaugurated in 2010 to raise the bottling of the holy water to 200,000 bottles per day.

At its conclusion, the third Saudi expansion of the Grand Mosque increased its area to 750,000 square meters to accommodate over 2.5 million worshippers at a cost of 300 billion riyals (80 billion dollars).

Behind the scenes

A royal decree was issued to the Ministry of Education to form a technical team of various specializations to come up with the architectural design and technical aspects of the expansion. Local and international firms and Saudi universities were invited to submit their proposals.

The best proposal was submitted by the King Saud University. Staff and students came up with the plan after 40 days of tireless work.

Dean of the College of Architecture and Planning and head of the design team Dr. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin recalled that the proposal competed against 14 presentations that were submitted by local and international firms and other faculties.

A royal decree chose the King Saud University proposal to serve as the foundation of the expansion project, which would be developed further with more experts.

Dr. al-Muqrin spoke with pride of the hard work put in by his team of 24 colleagues and students in coming up with the design between 2008 and 2009. The university was tasked with developing the design and a university team, headed by Dr. Al-Muqrin, joined experts, selected by the Ministry of Higher Education, to carry out their work.

King Salman era

The third expansion continued after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s ascension to the throne in January 2015. He vowed that the Kingdom will remain committed to its responsibilities in serving the two holy mosques, following in the footsteps of the kings and rulers who preceded him.

On May 30, 2015, he inspected the expansion and ordered that all means be dedicated to ensure it is complete. On July 11, 2015, he inaugurated a number of main projects within the expansion, including the expansion of the main building, courtyards project, pedestrian tunnels and main services hub.

King Salman also launched the Pilgrim Experience Program, one of the main programs of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, that aims to introduce a qualitative shift in services to pilgrims so that they can perform the holy rituals smoothly and with ease. The program focuses on easing their arrival to the two holy mosques, offering them quality services and enriching their religious and cultural experience.

On June 1, 2018, King Salman issued a royal decree to form the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, which is now chaired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister. The Commission aims to elevate the services provided to the pilgrims to achieve prosperity and sustainable development goals that align with Makkah’s holy standing.

COVID-19 pandemic

History will attest to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed’s bold decision to the government to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

They decided to suspend the Umrah and close the Mataf and Rawda areas at the Grand Mosque. The mosque itself was closed to visitors and only open to worshippers during hours of prayer to prevent the spread of the disease.



Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.

With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.

Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.

Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency - frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.

Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 travelled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.

They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.

Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria's army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp's men no longer venture out.

"None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can't go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court," Mona said.

She must now care for her brother's children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.

A sign that reads "The return of the displaced is a right and a duty", is placed along a highway in Jounieh, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

'WRONG & NOT SUSTAINABLE'

Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.

But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.

Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50% of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20% referring to Syrians as an "existential threat," said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.

The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon's foreign minister has pressured UNHCR's representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a "bribe" to keep hosting refugees.

"This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria," said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.

He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. "Go see them in the camps - they have solar panels, while Lebanese can't even afford a private generator subscription," he said.

The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.

"I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

"I understand the frustrations in host countries - but please don't fuel it further."

Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband's deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.

Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.

"Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can't. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?" she said.