MBS' 'vision' of sudden homelessness, no compensation
The Saudi government targets 30+ Jeddah neighborhoods with demolition, many of which house a mix of Saudis and foreigners from other Arab countries and Asia.
A $20-billion clearance and construction project that stands to displace half-a-million people in Saudi Arabia's second city - Jeddah - has prompted rare expressions of public anger in the Kingdom, reported AFP.
Saudi authorities pitch the development as the latest "ambitious" project of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, one that will replace "slums" with amenities like a stadium, an oceanarium, and an opera house.
#SaudiArabia : Sunset in #Jeddah through the haze of dust from demolitions #جدة_الأن #هدد_جدة pic.twitter.com/rF68JBGDjP— sebastian usher (@sebusher) April 21, 2022
Strangers in our own city
In coastal Jeddah, where crushed concrete and twisted metal now line affected streets, residents talk about official descriptions of their lost neighborhoods as undesirable dens of drugs and crime.
They accuse the government of destroying vibrant, diverse working-class districts that once burnished Jeddah's reputation as the most open destination in the conservative country.
"We have become strangers in our own city. We feel suffering and bitterness," expressed a doctor, who is now renting accommodation while still paying $400 a month on his personal loan.
The Saudi doctor still had 15 years left on the loan he used to build his family's "dream" home in Jeddah when bulldozers razed it to the ground, turning his life into a living "hell".
#SaudiArabia : Demolition of entire districts in #Jeddah no longer seems to attract much attention- this large apartment block brought down in huge cloud of dust as cars go by on flyover next to it #هدد_جدة pic.twitter.com/zA2v0BFFkG— sebastian usher (@sebusher) April 15, 2022
The prospects of renegotiating the loan or claiming compensation remain unclear, added the doctor, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation from the Saudi authorities.
Paused for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the demolitions are expected to pick up again in May.
30+ neighborhoods targeted
Jeddah is a lively tourist hub of beachfront restaurants and galleries that have, in the past months, hosted a major film festival and a Formula One Grand Prix.
Thirty-plus neighborhoods have been targeted, many of which once housed a mix of Saudis and foreigners from other Arab countries and Asia.
Evicted residents had been living in their homes for up to 60 years, highlighted ALQST for Human Rights.
Some were driven out when their power and water were cut off, or threatened with jail for disobeying an eviction order, ALQST added.
In the city's southern Galil neighborhood, which saw the first demolitions last October, a resident who gave his name as Fahd said security forces had confiscated mobile phones to prevent the footage from getting out.
"We were suddenly expelled from our homes overnight and without warning," he told AFP.
By early this year, though, the news was circulating widely, with the hashtag "#hadad_jeddah", or "Jeddah_demolition" in Arabic, trending on Twitter.
شراهة بن سلمان وجشعه وشهيته المفتوحه للدمار بدأت ب #الحويطات_ضد_ترحيل_نيوم ثم قتل عبدالرحيم الحويطي على مرأى من اهله ولن تنتهي بجده، كذالك المدينه المنوره قريباً.— علياء أبوتايه الحويطي (@Alya_Alhwaiti) January 13, 2022
رصوا صفوفكم اخرجوا لشوارع رافضين منددين صوروا وإنشروا. #إزالة_الاحياء#هدد_جدةpic.twitter.com/Z77mWjUuHx
Ali Al-Ahmad, a Saudi activist and scholar at the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, has led online efforts to publicize details of the demolitions.
"It is not acceptable to demolish citizens' homes without their consent, and before compensating them at an appropriate price sufficient to move them to a new place," he considered.
During a recent visit to one neighborhood rocked by demolitions, an AFP journalist saw multiple blocks where most buildings had been leveled.
On several of those still standing, authorities had written a single word in red: "Evacuate".
A sign instructed residents to leave with their belongings and advised them to upload documents on a government website to apply for compensation.
The Saudi government has promised to compensate families and announced in February it would complete 5,000 replacement housing units by the end of the year.
No compensation from Saudi government
But residents interviewed by AFP, including those evicted early on, revealed they had so far received nothing and that there was no clear way to assess the value of their destroyed homes.
"Months have passed and I have not received compensation for my home. I went from a homeowner to becoming a tenant struggling to pay his rent," Fahd underscored.
ALQST survey also found some residents had not received clear information on how to claim compensation, or even been told it was available.
Officials defend the project, claiming it will modernize the city with 17,000 new residential units while retaining its character.