Since April, dozens of female soldiers have joined the security services that monitor pilgrims in Mecca Y Medina, the birthplaces of Islam.
Dressed in a khaki military uniform, with a hip-length jacket, baggy pants, and a black beret over a veil that covers her hair, Mona spends her shifts wandering the Great Mosque of Mecca.
“I am following in the footsteps of my late father to complete his journey, standing here at the Great Mosque of Mecca, the most sacred place. Serving the faithful is a very noble and honorable task,” said Mona, who refused to give to his family name.
Saudi crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman it has pushed for social and economic reforms as part of plans to modernize the conservative Muslim kingdom and attract foreign investment under a diversification push.
Under his reform plan, known as Vision 2030, the Crown Prince lifted the ban on driving for women, allowed adult women to travel without permission from guardians, and gave them more control over family affairs.
But the reform plan has been accompanied by an offensive against dissent, including against women’s rights activists.
Saudi Arabia has restricted the haj to its own citizens and residents for the second year in a row, excluding millions of other pilgrims from abroad in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Samar, another soldier who was watching the pilgrims near the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure that Muslims believe was built by Abraham, said her family encouraged her to join the military, after studying psychology.
“This is a great achievement for us and it is the greatest pride to be at the service of religion, the country and the guests of God, the most merciful,” he said.
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