The Egyptian tourism sector is experiencing this Ramadan an extraordinary season for Umrah, as it is the first after a two-year suspension due to the consequences of the Corona and the start of work on the electronic portal for organizing Umrah launched by the Egyptian government.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism limited the number of Umrah visas to 60,000, evenly distributed during the months of Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadan, leading to a limited number of visas in the latter, in which hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were prone to perform umrah.
And Saudi Arabia announced in June 2019 that the number of Egyptian pilgrims in the Umrah season of 1440, which was the last seasons before the pandemic, was 541,000 Egyptian pilgrims, exceeding the number specified by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism at the time by more than 41,000 pilgrims.
The ministry distributed visas evenly to tourism companies registered on the Umrah portal, which means that each company receives about 15 Umrah visas during Ramadan, prompting some companies to offer programs to travel to the Holy Land via the routes that do not pass through the official route. established by the government, which is the gateway to Umrah. Electronic data in which Hajj data is recorded and through which a QR code is given, or a code that passes through it at airports and ports.
The number of tourist companies that organized trips to Umrah for this year reached 1883 tourist companies, each of which was granted 45 pilgrim visas distributed during the months of Rajab, Shaban and Ramadan, with 15 visas each month, as well as 3 visas for supervisors. accompanying pilgrims.
Unofficial ways of performing Umrah included obtaining tourist or visitor visas and other types of visas to enter the Kingdom, in addition to traveling from Egypt to Saudi Arabia transit through the Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman or Jordan, which is the so-called. B2C visa. These visas are in high demand because their cost is much lower than the Umrah visa through the online portal.
Saudi Arabia had announced a few days ago that holders of electronic tourist visas, which was approved in September 2019, will be allowed to perform Umrah after registering in the “Umrahna” application.
“B2C” means a visa to perform Umrah issued electronically, according to the steps announced by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the most important of which is access to the online portal of Umrah in the Kingdom, choosing one of the agencies or licensed travel companies. by the ministry, then choosing the right Umrah program and paying the value of the program that includes housing, transportation and other basic services. After that, the pilgrim is provided with a reference number through which he can submit an application for an umrah visa, from the electronic visa services platform of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism had predicted the Ramadan Umrah season by sending its committees to airport halls to inspect pilgrims’ passports to make sure they had received the travel barcode, according to local newspapers three weeks before Ramadan. , and warned companies against violating the regulations governing travel to Umrah, and that the penalties could be up to the revocation of company licenses. Local newspapers also quoted an official source in the Ministry of Tourism as saying that “no citizen holding an Umrah visa will be allowed to leave the border crossing without obtaining the (code) specified by the Umrah gate when registering electronically for an Umrah visa.” emphasizing that “the trips will be organized only by Egyptian tourist companies.
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charges of failure
However, former member of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, Ihab Abdel Aal, described the Umrah online portal as “a failure” and explained in exclusive statements, “The price of the economic Umrah program by tourism companies is no less “50 50,000 ($ 2716) in case of obtaining an Umrah visa. Through the official portal, the cost is around mijë 25,000 ($ 1358) through other types of visas.”
Abdel-Aal stressed, “The Umrah portal adds a lot of financial burden to the disinterested citizen and has pushed him to bypass it through other types of visas to enter Saudi Arabia, or to arrive through transit through the Emirates, Jordan and others. ” He said: “Since the beginning of the Umrah season in the month of Rajab, the number of pilgrims has reached 180,000 Egyptians, including 120,000 who crossed the illegal route, that is, far from the official gate of Umrah, which prevented it from achieving its goals. saj. , whether in tracking the movement of the pilgrim and providing the best service for him or collecting fees.
He added that “the government did not consult with tourism companies during the preparation of the law”, emphasizing that “there is a need for extensive changes”. He expected Parliament to discuss the introduction of the amendment soon, especially as it restricts the citizen’s constitutional right to travel and travel, he said. He added, “The gate cost milionë 120 million and did not achieve the desired return, but instead caused the rear doors to open for travel.”
Abdel-Aal indicated that “there is Saudi dissatisfaction with the method of organizing Umrah, which was recently imposed by Egypt.” Noting that “the Saudi authorities refused to link the portal to their Egyptian counterpart at the beginning of the opening of the portal, according to which those who are not approved by the Egyptian authorities are denied entry visas to the Kingdom, which first objected, since the issuance of visas is one of the sovereign rights of the Kingdom, and it was therefore natural that it refused to tie its platform to Umrah.The gateway to the Egyptian Umrah.
break the law
For its part, the Chamber of Tourism Companies called on citizens wishing to perform umrah to be wary of what it called “fake programs spread by some intermediaries and intermediaries” and depend on “virtual visa issuance for citizens, away from the procedures followed in the trip. for Umrah trips through the Egyptian portal Umrah ”, according to a statement. room last Monday.
The statement added: “The committees of the Ministry of Tourism and security services monitored a number of citizens who attempted to travel to Umrah passing through several Arab capitals”, explaining that “examining their passports and travel documents, it was found that these countries are just a transit station through which one travels to perform Hajj in violation of the Egyptian Umrah Gate Law, which has been issued.Finally, organizes the travel process by registering on the portal.
The Chamber added that the purpose of the law is to guarantee the safety of those who wish to perform Umrah, to ensure that they receive their full rights, to work for their comfort and safety from the return journey, and to punish those who neglect The rights of pilgrims, warning that circumventing the law by traveling through “transit” in some countries and then leaving to perform umrah, threatens the rights of these citizens and the lack of follow-up by the Ministry of Tourism.
The Chamber of Tourism Companies announced that “200 citizens have returned from airports and border crossings in recent days to carry out correct and legal travel procedures through the gate of Umrah in accordance with the law.” And local newspapers quoted officials at travel companies as saying, “that the return of citizens from airports is due to the falsification of the regulatory barcode, using it more than once.”
The Chamber expressed its regret at the occurrence of “fraud cases” in which the victims are ordinary citizens, who risk losing their money and their rights, according to its statement, and confirmed that it will monitor these cases, will identify the cause of fraud of citizens and notify the competent authorities to take legal action against them.
And “Independent Arabia” tried to contact Ashraf Shiha, a member of the Supreme Committee for Hajj and Umrah in the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce, to get a comment, but he said he refrained from commenting in the media during that period.
The Gate of Umrah
In September 2020, the Egyptian cabinet approved a bill to create the Egyptian portal for Umrah, and for tourism companies to implement trips to Umrah. A government statement at the time said the law aims to keep pace with technological development, mechanize services and enable the Ministry of Tourism to provide better services to pilgrims and protect them from intermediaries, as well as achievement of full Egyptian sovereignty over its citizens, to achieve the protection of the Egyptian economy and national security, as well as the elimination of many negative phenomena. The Egyptian portal for Umrah, which is an electronic portal created by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, registers Saudi tourism companies, companies, institutions and agents. except that travel companies set up Umrah programs that organize and clarify the names of pilgrims traveling through it and the national number for each of them.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified the law establishing the Egyptian portal for Umrah in June last year, which stipulated that the portal would give each pilgrim an identification code with a serial number read by a computer, which would be associated with the general. The Directorate of Passports and Immigration at the Ministry of Interior and then sent electronically to the passport departments in the Republic of ports.
The law restricts the application of Umrah travel to tourism companies registered on the Umrah portal and provides that anyone who travels to Umrah in violation of this law will be fined no less than 500,000 pounds ($ 27,132) and no. more than milionë 2 million ($ 108,529), and in the event of a recurrence, the minimum and maximum fines are doubled, and a fine of not less than milion 1 million ($ 54,264) and not more than milion 3 million ($ 162,794). ) will be imposed on anyone who travels to Umrah, except for tourism companies licensed to operate, and anyone who does not respect the airlines, land and sea transport companies, matching the private data of each pilgrim with the data registered on the portal before the pilgrim leaves one of the ports of the Republic and in case of recurrence the minimum and maximum limits are doubled. It also provided that revenues from fees set in accordance with the law be transferred to the Ministry of Tourism and shared equally between the Ministries of Finance and the Tourism Fund.