One day a colleague of ours, Saudi journalist, Mohamed Moslem al-Fayedi, decided to go undercover as a beggar outside one of the grand mosques in Jeddah, and in just a few hours he made hundreds of [Saudi] riyals. Al-Fayedi published an extensive report in which he indicated that what he earned as a beggar in just a few hours was equivalent to several days of his pay as a journalist. We were all ready to resign from the newspaper and split the city’s mosques between us, but in the end we decided to remain as journalists.
I recalled this story which took place prior to Saudi Arabia’s age of wealth, whilst observing the beggars on the streets of Jeddah during Eid; where one has a severed arm, another has no legs, a third has no eyes, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, into the thousands. The majority of these beggars are victims of criminal gangs, who bring them from poor African nations during the begging season each year and spread them throughout the streets in what is a miserable [social] phenomenon. A few years ago, the press published a photograph of a 9-year old Nigerian child who was arrested for begging and violating Saudi Arabian residency laws. A year later, he returned but this time with only one arm. The criminal gangs wanted him to return but with a “new look” which would help him arouse even more pity. When he was arrested, the poor child refused to reveal who had severed his limb fearing the risk to himself and his family back home should he reveal information about these criminal gangs, their leaders and members, to the authorities.
In conclusion, the case is no longer that of begging and beggars, rather this is a serious issue that is connected to organized crime that is exploiting the Hajj and Umrah season to get the most out of their victims. This is something that will snowball day after day and year after year unless we decisively face this danger. We would be mistaken to believe that the activities of such criminal gangs are limited to begging. In my view, begging is only one aspect of a broad and expanding range of [criminal] activities that may include, theft, pick-pocketing, fraud, and anything else that we can imagine.