Saudi Arabia’s King Salman replaced the hajj minister on Friday, months after the kingdom hosted the smallest pilgrimage in modern history due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mohammad Benten was relieved from his post as minister of hajj and umrah, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said, citing a royal decree. He is replaced by Essam bin Saeed, who will retain his post as minister of state.
The kingdom hosted the annual hajj pilgrimage in late July, on the smallest scale in modern history. Only up to 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia itself were allowed to take part, a far cry from the 2.5 million Muslims from around the world who participated in 2019.
It is unclear how many pilgrims will be allowed for this year’s hajj, as the global pandemic continues.
According to the pro-government Okaz newspaper, only those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will likely be permitted this year. It cited earlier this month a health ministry circular as saying that being vaccinating “will be one of the main conditions” for eligibility.
In a relaxation of coronavirus curbs in October, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayers for the first time in seven months and partially resumed the year-long umrah pilgrimage.
In a separate royal decree on Friday, Abdulaziz al-Duailej was appointed as head of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, as the kingdom prepares to end travel restrictions for its citizens and reopen its borders from May 17.