Massive development of Mecca has been underway to accommodate the 12 million pilgrims who visit Islam's holiest city each year, and many residents are not happy to see their city transformed into a "Las Vegas and playground for the rich". In an effort to modernize the city's infrastructure developers are rushing to build skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and malls, bulldozing many historical and archeological sites in the process, all with state approval.
"We have already lost 400-500 sites," a prominent Saudi archeologist told The Independent, calling the development "cultural vandalism". The push to demolish much of the local religious archeological heritage is driven by hard-line Wahabi clerics who view historical sites and centuries old shrines as sinful and leading to idolatry. At risk is the house where Prophet Mohamed was born, among other important Islamic sites. The Saudis have allowed only three sites to be designated World Heritage Sites by the UN, but none have religious significance.
Construction has already begun to expand Mecca's Grand Mosque at a cost of approximately $1 billion, making it the world's largest religious structure.
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