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Developing Mecca: A Case Study of the Royal Makkah Clock Tower

Andrew Winerman
I.

Introduction

This paper is motivated by the perplexing question of how Meccaone of the great
religious centers of the world, and the spiritual center of the Islamic religionnow houses
adjacent to its most important building, the Great Mosque, a series of buildings that comprise a
shocking architectural monstrosity.1 The Royal Makkah Clock Tower is one of the worlds
tallest skyscrapers at over 400 meters, featuring the worlds largest clocks measuring 43 meters
in diameter and boasting 900 million pieces of mosaic, and it houses one of the worlds largest
hotels.2 The $3 billion tower is part of a complex that has the worlds largest floor area.3 The
tower is part of a much larger project called the King Abdul Endowment project which itself is
only one part of a ten-year $125 billion revamping of the infrastructure of Mecca.4
The Clock Tower and the complex in which it is located have received mixed reviews to
say the least.5 It is part of a number of changes to central Mecca that many find appalling that
have raised criticisms of the Saudi government6; these changes include train lines, numerous
luxury high-rises and hotels, and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque.7 While the Saudi
government maintains that these changes are being made in order to facilitate the increasing
numbers of people who make the hajj pilgrimage, critics have said the government is looking to
profit off of Mecca and complain that the city is being divided along class lines.8 One writer has
said that the surrounding buildings will allow "[l]ike the luxury boxes that encircle most sports
stadiums the wealthy to peer directly down at the main event from the comfort of their suites

This is a personal, but hardly unique opinion. See infra at notes 5, 8-10. The appendix includes a picture of the
hotel clearly showing the relative scale of the hotel and the Grand Mosque. One can form ones own judgment.
2
See World's Biggest Clock Begins Ticking In Mecca, ECON. TIMES (INDIA) (Aug. 11, 2010), available at
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/et-cetera/Worlds-biggest-clock-begins-ticking-inMecca/articleshow/6294653.cms. The hotel is part of the Fairmont brand, a Western-based brand with its origins in
San Francisco. See Makkah Clock Royal Tower, available at http://www.fairmont.com/makkah; Fairmont Hotels
and Resorts: The Birth of the Brand, available at http://www.fairmont.com/EN_FA/AboutFairmont/OurHistory/.
3
Id.
4
Improving Meccas Infrastructure, AL JAZEERA, Nov. 25, 2009, available at
http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/hajj/2009/11/200911250505146948.html.
5
See Nicolai Ouroussoff, New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy, N.Y. TIMES (Dec. 29, 2010) (It is an
architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim worlds holiest site, a kitsch rendition
of Londons Big Ben is nearing completion . Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up
to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels
like a cynical nod to Islams architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18thcentury Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.).
6
Id.
7
See Simon C. Woodward, Faith and Tourism: Planning Tourism in Relation to Places of Worship, 1 TOURISM
HOSPITALITY PLANNING DEV. 173, 182-83 (2004).
8
Id. It is hard not to be sympathetic with the Saudi government on the notion of expanding the grand mosque. In
the four-day hajj the Saudi authorities are attempting to accommodate nearly 3 million pilgrims today in a mosque
that can fit only 75,000. The capacity may already be higher today though.
1

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1846593

without having to mix with the ordinary rabble below.9 He also worries that the spiritual
experience of the mosque will be disrupted by the enormous towers that obstruct the views to the
nearby hillsides, and about the spiritual nature of the hajj itself.10
This paper aims to explore some of the legal background behind how this building boom,
and particularly the development of the Royal Makkah Clock Tower. It investigates at a very
general level Islamic land law and the connection to modern land law in Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, it considers some limited available evidence regarding the Saudi building review
process and zoning laws. Finally, to the extent possible, it attempts to understand the decision to
build the massive complex that includes the Royal Makkah Clock Tower. Only limited
conclusions are possible with the available data but the most plausible explanation for the
construction of the building is a combination of religious necessity filtered through additional
economic and cultural goals.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section II describes the basic structure of
the Saudi legal system. Section III describes, to the extent possible, the relevant law of Saudi
Arabia. Section IV describes briefly how the relevant law appears to have interacted with the
development of the Royal Makkah Clock Tower and its surrounding complex, and considers the
applicability of the interpretations mentioned above. Section V briefly concludes.
II.

Basic Structure of the Kingdoms Legal System

Saudi law includes royal regulations adopted under the influence of Western legal
regimes, but enforced within a system influenced by ancient Islamic law traditions, the basis of
which is the body of immutable principles in the Quran and Sunnah.11 Under the Hanbali
School followed by the Saudis, royal decrees are necessary to deal with modern problems
because evolutionary sources of fiqh (legal rules), such as consensus and analogy, are rejected.12
With the prohibition against these sources of legal development, royal decrees become important
for adjusting the Saudi legal system to the modern world. The kings decreeswhich deal with
public, administrative, and commercial relationsare not considered law on par with the
sharia but nevertheless operate as legal rules. These regulations can originate with the Saudi
9

Such an experience seems to at least partially undermine the experience of brotherhood noted by Malcolm X after
his return from the hajj, although certainly there can be poor people of every race. See Alex Haley, Autobiography
of Malcolm X 346 (1965) (There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all
colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual,
displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist
between the white and non-white.)
10
Id. One Muslim architect noted that [t]he hajj was always supposed to be a time when everyone is the same.
There are no classes, no nationalities. It is the one place where we find balance. You are supposed to leave worldly
things behind you. Id. The Saudi minister of culture apparently dismissed these concerns by noting that [w]hen
[he is] in Mecca and [is] go[ing] around the kaaba, [he does not] look up.
11
David J. Karl, Islamic Law in Saudi Arabia: What Foreign Attorney's Should Know, 25 GEO. WASH. J. INT'L L. &
ECON. 131, 132-36 (1991-1992).
12
Id. at 140-41. See also FRANK VOGEL, ISLAMIC LAW AND LEGAL SYSTEM: STUDIES OF SAUDI ARABIA (2000);
Ayoub M. Al-Jarbou, Judicial Independence: Case Study of Saudi Arabia, 19 ARAB L. Q. 5, 14 n. 41 (2004).
2

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1846593

Arabian Council of Ministers which has control of state policy, regulatory, executive,
administrative, and finally budgetary authority.13 Individual ministers may also issue decrees.14
It is not clear how much the formal legal system matters with respect to the
extraordinarily politically and religiously sensitive issue of land use in Mecca. Nevertheless, it is
worth describing the structure of that system. The Kingdom includes sharia courts and
specialized tribunals. The sharia courts have authority over disputes regarding real property
unless delegated to a specialized tribunal.15 The Saudi legal system features a three level system
with the possibility of two appeals, while the high court, known as the Supreme Judicial Council,
has administrative, consultative and judicial functions.16 The Supreme Judicial Council hears
appeals both from the general sharia courts as well as the specialized tribunals.17 One of the
specialized tribunals is the Board of Grievances, which hears cases against government officials
and therefore is involved in most international investment disputes.18
As for the Saudi states administrative system, there are local administrative councils as
well as central government offices, but the latter have come to dominate.19 Nevertheless,
working beneath the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, Mecca along with several other
municipalities has a wide range of authority over local municipal affairs, such as town planning
and design [and] construction projects .20 However, there is an independent Ministry for the
Hajj.
The upshot of this analysis for the specific case of the Royal Makkah Clock Tower is that
the central government, acting on royal initiative, likely has the final say on major projects in
Mecca. Indeed the Supreme Hajj Committee that oversees it reports directly to the king, who has
power over the judiciary.21 Objections to actions in Mecca directed by the king are unlikely to
arise from the judiciary because even though the sharia technically controls royal decisionmaking the king is the ultimate source of judicial authority in a temporal sense.22 Furthermore
government land use decisions would be more likely to be challenged at the administrative level
before the Board of Grievances than before the sharia courts because the Board of Grievances is

13

Id. at 143.
Id.
15
Id. at 144.
16
Id. at 144-47. See also Al-Jarbou, supra note 12, at 40-41.
17
See FRANK VOGEL supra note 12, at 147.
18
Id. at 147. See also Al-Jarbou, supra note 12, at 25-27. The Board of Grievance has no appellate authority over
the sharia courts but is allowed to review dilatory implementation of sharia judgments by officials. See George N.
Sfeir, An Islamic Conseil dEtat: Saudi Arabias Board of Grievance, 4 Arab Law Q. 128, 129 (1989).
19
Ibrahim Al-Awaji, Bureaucracy and Development in Saudi Arabia: The Case of Local Administration, in
JOSEPH J. JABBRA, BUREAUCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARAB WORLD 49, 51-54 (1989)
20
Id. at 53-54.
21
See Joan C. Henderson, Religious Tourism and Its Management: The Hajj in Saudi Arabia, INT. J. TOURISM RES.
(2010) (unfortunately the available copy of this source is not paginated).
22
See Al-Jarbou, supra note 12, at 13-15, 18-20, 45-47, 52.
14

the main source of public law in Saudi Arabia.23 The Board of Grievances in turn is closely
identified with the authority of the King.24 For all the discussion of the normal rules of the Saudi
legal system in this section and the next, the urban planning of Mecca is, because of the
extremely specific timeframes of the hajj pilgrimage, perhaps a sui generis issue for the normal
Saudi legal system. It would not be surprising if the rules applicable elsewhere in the kingdom
did not apply to the crucial religious areas of Mecca.
III.

Saudi Zoning and Eminent Domain Law

English language sources on Saudi land law are not easy to find, however, it is possible to
find some background for general land use regulations in the Kingdom.25 Unfortunately, so far it
has been impossible to locate specific information on the most relevant area of land use
regulations such as municipal zoning laws in Mecca or details royal directives related to hajjoriented construction in Mecca.
Some analysis of Islamic land law in general has been done by researchers from
UNHABITAT and provides helpful context.26 The authors write that [i]n the Islamic system,
private property rights are promoted but the ultimate ownership of God over land is assumed and
requires all rights to be exercised within the Islamic legal and ethical framework with a
redistributive ethos.27 However, Islam is by no means the only factor in Muslim societies and
often coexists with customary, secular, and other influences.28 The states role in management
of land is seen as supervising land ultimately belonging to God[, t]hus the state is mandated to
administer land, efficiently and fairly, in accordance with Gods laws and ethical and moral
principles.29 They argue that the Islamic law framework is capable of responding to
modern urban planning and environmental challenges, although the nature of these current
demands could not have been envisaged in the classical Islamic period.30 Islam has had a focus
on urban settings since the Prophet Muhammad himself was an urban dweller.31 Nevertheless,
23

Sfeir, supra note 18, at 131-32 (noting that the Board of Grievances competence extends to any party where the
government is a party, including petitions for relief from administrative acts).
24
Id. at 129-30.
25
See Georg Glasze, Gated Housing Estates in the Arab World: Case Studies in Lebanon and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
29 ENV. PLANNING 321 (2002). One source features an extensive discussion of Maliki School land use law. SALMA
KHADRA JAYYUSI ET. AL, THE CITY IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD, VOL. 1 81-86 (2008). The book describes that the law
of nuisance is based on verses in the Quran, such as 26:183 (And diminish not the goods of the people, and do not
mischief in the earth working corruption.), and from the sayings of the Prophet, such as [d]o not harm others or
yourself, and others should not harm you or themselves. Id. at 82. It was expected that remediation of potential
nuisances would be part of the building process, and the qadi could punish violations of local building codes with
demolition. Id. at 83.
26
See SIRAJ SAIT, HILARY LIM, LAND, LAW AND ISLAM: PROPERTY AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD,
VOLUME 1 (2006).
27
Id. at 3. See also id. at 8-11. The redistributive ethos is instantiated in such institutions as the waqf and zakat, the
pillar of Islam requiring charity, and inheritance laws which require the breaking up of large estates. Id. at 14-15.
28
Id. at 8. See also id. at 9-11.
29
Id. at 8.
30
Id. at 9.
31
Id. at 24.
4

because [t]raditional Islamic principles relating to land could not have foreseen the challenges
of urbanization, land conflicts or newer forms of land use [t]hese are at a jurisprudential level
matters for ijtihad (personal reasoning), but at a policy level, a state following Islamic principles
has considerable leeway also in orienting its land policy towards the benefit of the community
through maslaha or public interest.32
The Saudi government has in the past used the power of eminent domain to acquire land
in Mecca to better accommodate the hajj crowds.33 More details are provided by Steve Coll who
argued that the Saudi monarchy initially sought Mecca in the 1920s for its lucrative pilgrim trade
and then used eminent domain to expand the citys capacity to receive visitors.34 Interestingly,
the reconstruction of Mecca and Medina in the 1950s and 1960s, which included massive
changes in both those cities religious centers as well as their civil infrastructure, was overseen
by Mohammed bin Laden, Osama bin Ladens father and the House of Sauds principal
builder.35 In Mecca, the eminent domain payments to landowners whose buildings were
destroyed totaled $375 million.36
The Saudi state has also used its regulatory authority over land to enact building and
other codes. These regulations have undermined traditional urban forms, while not necessarily
violating any sharia requirements. This is not surprising in light of the great changes on the
Arabian Peninsula since the discovery and exploitation of oil. For instance, since the 1950s
[t]he Saudi government, with the assistance of Western consultants, established guidelines of
urban planning and was, to a degree, able to steer urban growth.37 The government developed
housing projects in Riyadh according to a Riyadh Master Plan formed by a Greek company that
included land subdivision and setback requirements.38 Scholars have pointed out that these
codes caused the elimination of semi-private spaces which were nominally public but in which
outsiders were immediately recognized.39 This was caused by the adoption of gridded street
patterns.40 Likewise, private interior courtyards that were the center of traditional family life and
were shielded from the view of other buildings have been undermined by modern setback
32

Id. at 25.
Steven D. Jamar, The Protection of Intellectual Property Under Islamic Law, 21 CAP. U. L. R. 1079, 1092 (1992).
34
STEVE COLL, THE BIN LADENS: AN ARABIAN FAMILY IN THE AMERICAN CENTURY, Ch. 5 (2008) (page numbers
unavailable).
35
Id.
36
Id.
37
SIRAJ & LIM, supra note 26, at 323. Western conceptions have also affected the perception of property rights to
some extent. On the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundations annual Index of Economic Freedoms, Saudi
Arabia is listed as Level 3 in property protection out of five levels. SIRAJ & LIM, supra note 26, at 7. More
recently, the country has received a score of 45 on a 100-point scale. The latest Index explains that Saudi courts do
not always enforce contracts efficiently. The court system is slow, non-transparent, and influenced by the ruling
elite. 2011 Index of Economic Freedom: Saudi Arabia, available at
http://www.heritage.org/index/Country/SaudiArabia.
38
SIRAJ & LIM, supra note 26 at 324.
39
A.F. Moustapha, et. al., Urban Development in Saudi Arabia: Building and Subdivision Codes CITIES 140, 140-44
(1985).
40
Id. at 142-44.
33

requirements and the construction of tall buildings.41 Abu-Ghazzeh argued that although the fiqh
contains among other things, building codes and regulations, and sections on the rights of way,
neighbors rights, and rights of privacy,42 modern projects are climatically inappropriate as well
as culturally destructive.43 However, Abu-Ghazzeh recognizes the practical need to provide the
business class of Saudi Arabia with an alternative authentic image of progress which will be
done by training architects in Saudi Arabias vernacular architecture and then encouraging them
to take the initiative and propose an authentic vernacular architecture in its projects.44
IV.

The Development of the Royal Makkah Clock Tower under Saudi Law

Three particular interpretations of the massive construction projects in Mecca are


discussed in this section. The first is an infrastructure interpretation, the second is an ideological
interpretation, and the third is a financial interpretation. These should not be taken as mutually
exclusive.
The infrastructure interpretation is based on the fact that over the last several decades the
number of individuals participating in the four-day ritual-packed hajj has exploded.45 Indeed,
since 1996 the total number of participants in the hajj has increased from less than 1.2 million46
to nearly 3 million in 2010.47 Finding more and more housing for these pilgrims, and effective
means of transporting them, is a major issue.48 As the worlds Muslim population grows, the
Saudi government has sought to maintain a consistent ratio of hajj spaces to that total population,
which is obviously an ever-increasing challenge.49 Today more than 1 million pilgrims stay in a
tented city outside of Mecca.50 Managing this process safely is a priority, but monstrously
difficult, and there have been a several tragedies because of the size of the hajj crowds that have

41

Id. at 142. See also M.Y. Numan, et. al., The Impact of Dynamic Cultural Changes on the Design and Energy
Performance of Residential Buildings in Saudi Arabia, 2000 Mediterranean Conference for Environment and Solar
62, 63-65 (2000) (quantifying the energy costs of new architecture).
42
Tawfiq M. Abu-Ghazzeh, Vernacular Architecture Education in the Islamic Society of Saudi Arabia: Towards the
Development of an Authentic Contemporary Built Environment 21 HABITAT INTL 229, 232 (1997).
43
Id. at 235-36.
44
Id. at 246.
45
See Woodward, supra note 7, at 184 (The fundamental role of Hajj in Islam means that the tangible built heritage
of Makkah has always come second to the improvement of the infrastructure needed to accommodate visitors.)
Woodward also notes that the sacred site in Mecca is an island surrounded by vast road networks and a wall of
luxury hotels providing for the top end of the market. Id.
46
Record Number of Pilgrims Arrive For 1417 Hajj, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia available at
http://www.saudiembassy.net/archive/1997/news/page208.aspx.
47
2.8 Million Pilgrims Participated in Hajj 1431, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Tokyo (Nov. 18, 2010),
available at http://www.saudiembassy.or.jp/En/PressReleases/2010/20101118.htm.
48
See Woodward, supra note 7, at 174 (noting that the hajj generated $1.5 billion in economic revenue).
49
Id. at 183. See also Henderson, supra note 21. The hajj ratio is enforced by strictly limiting the number of hajj
visas available. Id.
50
Woodward, supra note 7, at 183. See also Henderson, supra note 49 (describing the remarkable logistical
enterprise involved with this tent city, including hundreds of kitchens, hundreds of medical clinics, and thousands of
drinking fountains).
6

caused hundreds of casualties each.51 The task required the creation of a separate Ministry of the
Hajj, which is independent of the Ministry of Tourism.52
Unfortunately no description about the approval process for the King Abdul Endowment
project, of which the Royal Makkah Clock Tower is a part, has been found. In particular, no
source has been found claiming that the building was illegal. It was controversial, however,
even during site preparation. As part of the building process an Ottoman fort from the 18th
century was destroyed and the hill on which it stood was leveled.53 This destruction drew strong
protests from the Turkish government who characterized it as sinful behavior, and the Saudi
Minister of Islamic Affairs responded by saying that no-one had the right to interfere and that a
reconstruction of the fort would be included as part of the site redevelopment.54 The back-andforth with the Turkish government also included the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs arguing
that the construction was in in the interest of Muslims all over the world[.]55 However, given
that the buildings will only house 55,000 pilgrimscompared with the tent city of more than a
millionit is somewhat difficult to take the notion that the towers are completely necessary at
face value.56 Obviously no building can house a million people, and a large capacity building
near the mosque can make a contribution to alleviating the space and transportation problems
faced by the hajj, but it might be questioned whether the building needs to be so very close to the
Grand Mosque itself. In any event, as one scholar noted, Saudi Arabias political system
inhibits opposition to formal decisions while the government claims that expansion of the
Two Holy Mosques is a monumental achievement and evidence of immense care for Hajj and
Umrah [which is a visit to the holy sites in Mecca and Medina outside the time of the hajj].57
The ideological interpretation considers whether the remarkable decision to build the
Royal Makkah Clock Tower may be more comprehensible in light of the attraction of Western
51

Woodward, supra note 7, at 183. These incidents have sometimes been exaggerated and have been used in
vicious commentary to suggest barbarism on the part of the hajj participants. See Debbie Schlussel, The Predictable
Hajj: Hundreds Get Trampled, But Muslims Attack U.S. & Israel (Dec. 8, 2008), available at
http://www.debbieschlussel.com/4523/the-predictable-hajj-hundreds-get-trampled-but-muslims-attack-u-s-israel/
(Every year [sic], hundreds of Muslims are trampled to death by other Muslims at this event. Its an interesting
form of natural selection not nearly selective enough.); James Taranto, A Good Reason to Dodge the Hajj,
OPINIONJOURNAL.COM (Isn't there something barbaricin practice, if not in principleabout a religion whose
rituals routinely result in such bloodshed? That seems an obvious question, and yet somehow we have the sense
we're being either daring or terribly rude by posing it.). Of course, the hajj crowds are substantially larger than the
1.8 million people who attended the inauguration of President Obama, which were the largest crowds in the history
of Washington, D.C. Inaugural Crowd Size Reportedly D.C. Record, BOSTON GLOBE (Jan. 22, 2009), available at
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2009/01/22/inaugural_crowd_size_reportedly_dc_record/. Of course,
the inauguration was a much simpler event to manage because the crowd stayed in one place.
52
Id. at 175.
53
James Palmer, Destroying Ottoman Castle to Build Hotel is 'Cultural Massacre, INDEPENDENT, Jan. 9, 2002,
available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/destroying-ottoman--castle-to-build-hotel-iscultural-massacre-662582.html.
54
Saudis Hit Back Over Mecca Castle, BBC, Jan. 9, 2002, available at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1748711.stm.
55
Id.
56
Henderson, supra note 49.
57
Id.
7

architectural style to the Saudi elite who see the traditional styles as backward. This attraction,
and the fact that the attraction percolates downward to the rest of society, is an issue identified a
decade ago by Abu-Ghazzeh.58 Abu-Ghazzeh critiqued the prevailing architectural education
curriculum in the Kingdom for failing to provide graduates with a sense of the importance of
philosophical issues in architecture.59 This failure made them unable to appreciate Saudi
Arabias vernacular architecturewhich is to say the traditional regional architecture which is
sensitive to its unique characteristics including its ecology and historythat predated the 1970s
oil boom.60 If this is correct perhaps the Royal Makkah Clock Tower is an emanation of this
phenomenon, although taking the phenomenon remarkably beyond the bounds one might expect
from a religious monarchy.
Benjamin Flowers introduced a discussion of skyscraper zoning in New York City by
pointing to the fact that skyscrapers are seen as a sign of modernity and national improvement.61
Perhaps that is what is going on in the minds of Saudi Arabian officials, but that certainly seems
in odd contrast to the piety that one would expect with respect to the grand mosque and its
immediate vicinity. Nevertheless, there does appear to be some aspect of national or religious
pride involved; some Saudi officials have lobbied for the replacement of Greenwich Mean Time
with Mecca Standard Time that would be keyed to the Royal Makkah Clock Tower.62
One commentator argued that the construction of the complex has been facilitated by
Saudi Arabias especially strict interpretation of Islam, which regards much history after the age
of Muhammad, and the artifacts it produced, as corrupt, meaning that centuries-old buildings can
be destroyed with impunity.63 This would be consistent with the argument that the concept of
historic preservation is a Western concept or at least a concept without universal applicability.64
Comments by the mayor of Mecca appear to reinforce the fact that there is little sentimentality
58

See Abu-Ghazzeh, supra note 42, at 236-37 (Contemporary architecture of Saudi Arabia is dominated far more
by the prevailing taste of its business e1ite than by all the artistic theories of its architects and art historians, and this,
though it might be regretted, is understandable. Naturally there is a trickle-down effect, and the middle and upper
middle classes aspire to have residences and public buildings that are comparable with those of the business
elite.).
59
Id. at 230.
60
Id. at 230-33.
61
BENJAMIN FLOWERS, SKYSCRAPER: THE POLITICS AND POWER OF BUILDING NEW YORK CITY IN THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY 2-5 (2009).
62
Giant Mecca Clock Seeks to Call Time on Greenwich, THE TELEGRAPH, Aug. 11, 2010, available at
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/7937123/Giant-Mecca-clock-seeks-to-calltime-on-Greenwich.html.
63
Ouroussoff, supra note 5.
64
See Improving Meccas Infrastructure, supra note 4 (quoting the mayor of Mecca: Hajj is always the same people come as a direct response to the call of Prophet Abraham. It's the fifth pillar of Islam, it's the special journey
of the Muslim. He will always come to see the Kaaba [Islam's holiest shrine], he will always come to do tawaf
[when pilgrims walk round the Kaaba seven times], sa'i and go to [Mount] Arafat on the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah [the
month of pilgrimage]. So this is how the special journey will always be the same. What will change is surfaces, what
will change is the transportation modes, what will change is what will ease the situation for people, will
accommodate more people, in a very good environment to perform the Hajj, inshallah [God willing], in safe and
good health and a very good situation.
8

on the part of the Saudi government for the existing neighborhood around the Great Mosque.
Responding to critics, the mayor said [y]ou have to balance how you can accommodate more
people, more hajis coming to Mecca to do the fifth pillar of Islam, [w]ith these very narrow roads
and very historical areas, you cannot.65
The ideological interpretation may complement a third, financial interpretation, which
suggests that the Saudi government wants to take advantage of the tourism industry potential of
Mecca by offering wealthier pilgrims higher price point lodging. In essence the Saudi
government is engaging in a classic example of third-degree price discrimination to extract more
rent from a valuable resource it controlsaccess to the Muslim holy sites.66 A freewheeling
attitude toward ancient sites described above is convenient insofar as it allows the allegedly
desired commercialization of Mecca to continue. It is undoubtedly true that the Saudi
government will realize additional tax revenue from selling higher-priced accommodations in
Mecca during the hajj and throughout the year. Indeed, such a massive complex so conveniently
situated will be a logical place for many pilgrims to go when visiting Mecca at any time of year.
While of course Saudi oil revenue is enormous,67 they have been working to diversify their
economy and enhanced tourism revenue is an obvious contributor.68 The fact that the Fairmont
Hotel inside the Clock Tower offers rooms at $200-$1200 per night and tackily advertises the
breathtaking panoramic kaaba views of some of its suites reinforces this interpretation.69
V.

Conclusion

Although this paper has proposed three interpretationsideological, infrastructure, and


commercialfor the development in Mecca, an important note should be made before taking
any of them as pejorative. Vogel characterizes zoning decisions in the West also as examples of
kadi-justice, a term derived from and used by Max Weber to represent the kind of microcosmic
law that is identified as an important characteristic of the Saudi sharia legal system insofar as
each determination is an individual adjudicators interpretation of a canonical legal source.70
Zoning determinations in the United States are also made on a case-by-case basis.
Consider that New Yorks landmark 1916 law devised a compromise solution to the problem of
real estate conflicts over the height and bulk of buildings in commercial districts by permitting
65

Id. Note that the mayor situates his relative unconcern regarding preservation of the ancient streets in his concern
to accommodate modern hajis, reinforcing the first interpretation.
66
For a background on third-degree price discrimination, which is used to analyze such phenomena as multi-class
modes of transportation, see, e.g., Joanna Stevins, Price Discrimination in the Airline Market: The Effect of Market
Concentration, 83 REV. ECON. STAT. 200 (2006).
67
Constituting 45% of GDP, 80% of the budget, and 90% of export earnings. Saudi Arabia, CIA WORLD
FACTBOOK, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sa.html.
68
Id.
69
See Fairmont Hotel, available at
http://www.fairmont.com/EN_FA/Reservations/ReservationRoom?hc=MAK&nn=1&ad=29%2f05%2f2011&dd=30
%2f05%2f2011&na=1&nc=0&pc=&sm=0&bt=12&rt=&ic=
70
VOGEL, supra note 12, at 30.
9

tall buildings if they preserved a certain amount of light, air, and open space in the sky.71
Subsequently, New York's 1961 law shifted the focus to plazas and open space at ground level
with a system of floor-area ratios and density bonuses.72 Then, [i]n the 1980s many urban
central business districts experienced significant building booms [and] city governments took
a more active and sophisticated approach to downtown zoning[:] Special districts, density
bonuses, incentive zoning, negotiated development, linkage, and a variety of other techniques
and forms of intervention proliferated.73 Under these elaborate structures, zoning disputes are
inherently political and the relative power on different sides of the question plays a critical role,
with ideological choices and efforts made on both sides and the buildings themselves reflecting
those ideologies and conflicts.74 The Saudi governments decision-making also is likely
balancing conflicting impulses in extremely political decisions, but in their case under the
immense weight of responsibility that it bears for managing the hajj.
Nevertheless, while the inner economist may say that it makes sense to create buildings
that provide services the market demands accessible to the flocks of pilgrims descending on the
great mosque, it is places like Mecca, Jerusalem, and the Vatican where one expects the market
incentive to make some concessions to spiritual and aesthetic concerns. Surely enormous hotels
could be built within a mile or two of the Grand Mosque without dominating it so immediately
and directly. Of course, the sentiments that lead to the belief that this would be desirable may
reflect Western attitudes toward historic preservation and treatment of religious sites.75

71

Marc A. Weiss, Skyscraper Zoning, 58 J. AM. PLANNING ASSOC. 201 (1992).


Id.
73
Id.
74
See FLOWERS, supra note 61, at 6-10 (2009). The same observation was made by Vogel. VOGEL, supra note 12,
at 30.
75
Henderson, supra note 13.
72

10

Appendix

Source: Wikipedia, available at


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:199605_843549403227_15616651_43546066_6271693_n.jpg
(last accessed May 19, 2011).

11

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