August 19, 2009

Mecca ban provokes Cairo airport sit-in

by David Masters

Hundreds of Egyptian pilgrims staged a sit-in protest at Cairo airport Sunday after they were banned from travelling to Mecca by authorities attempting to halt the spread of swine flu.

The travel restrictions, which came into effect Sunday, apply to all pilgrims over 65 and under 25 travelling to Mecca.

Extra security guards were drafted in to remove the 300 protesters, who sat on the terminal floor and refused to leave.

Some passengers had to be removed from flights they had already boarded Sunday morning.

An airport official said about 15% of passengers who arrived at the airport on Sunday to travel to Saudi Arabia were prevented from leaving the country.

“The people banned from leaving are those over 65 and those under 25 because they are the most at risk of being contaminated by swine flu,” the official said.

In addition, those aged 25-65 travelling from Egypt to Mecca on pilgrimage have to show medical certificates to prove they do not suffer from chronic diseases, including diabetes.

The main annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, is compulsory for all able-bodied Muslims at least once during their life time, and falls in November this year.

The Umrah, a lesser pilgrimage, can be undertaken at any time of year, and is voluntary for Muslims.

Older people are likely to be worst effected by the ban on travelling to Mecca, as many of them will have saved their whole lives to undertake a pilgrimage to the holy city before they die.

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