An Amnesty International report speaks of indiscriminate and insensitive demolitions. Affected at least 558,000 inhabitants, foreigners denied even state-promised reparations. Behind the image of a "progressive and opulent" nation emerge "horrific stories of abuse and violations."
Jeddah (AsiaNews) - The indiscriminate and "insensitive" demolitions initiated by Saudi authorities in the development and revitalization plan for the port city of Jeddah, affecting at least 558,000 residents, are "discriminatory" and violate international human rights standards. Making the accusation in a report released in recent days is Amnesty International, which says forced evictions and demolitions to make way for a new modern-style urbanization project have hit foreign migrant workers hard.
Between late 2021 and early 2022, top administrative officials kicked hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. Documents from the Jeddah municipality show that expropriations should be matched by a series of compensations, promised as compensation; however, foreigners and migrants are excluded from this rule, who actually make up 47 percent of the total number of those forced to seek resettlement.
Diana Semaan, Amnesty International's acting deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, points out that "behind the progressive and glitzy image that Saudi Arabia is trying to present to the world, there are horrific stories of abuse and violations." "Not only," the activist continues, "have they kicked residents out of their homes without any sensitivity and giving them time to leave or adequate compensation to find an alternative, but they have also discriminated against hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals by excluding them from the compensation scheme.
Some Jeddah residents surveyed by Middle East Eye in January said they were caught "by surprise" by the demolitions and had "very little time" to find other accommodation or to say goodbye to neighbors, with whom they have lived with for generations. Some were forced to abandon their furniture in the open, finding shelter under bridges. Research by activist group ALQST published in April confirms that the demolitions have been poorly managed, with more than 71 percent of respondents revealing that they have not received any form of support.
Jeddah is the second largest city in the Wahhabi kingdom and home to up to 4.5 million people. It is a major economic center and the gateway to Mecca for millions of Muslim worshippers each year on their way to the Hajj (the major pilgrimage). The neighborhoods so far targeted for demolition are in the south, in an area seen by many as the very heart and soul of the city overlooking the Red Sea.
The southern sector has long been relegated to the margins of major development projects, while all plans and investments were concentrated in the north. However, the southern part of Jeddah has peculiarities that make it unique in being socially vibrant and multi-ethnic, due to the flow of migration that has resulted in deep urban intermingling for decades. However, Amnesty's report shows how the Saudi state narrative has repeatedly stigmatized this unique characteristic, attacking the area's inhabitants and linking them to "disease, heinous crimes, drug trafficking and theft."
The development plan that resulted in the expulsion of more than half a million people from Jeddah is part of the economically, socially and culturally reformist program called "Vision 2030" and personally desired by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (Mbs.). It is a wide-ranging project that touches different sectors of the country's life, but one that risks relegating the poorest and weakest groups to the margins, as evidenced by the case of the "Neom martyr," a hero of the anti-expropriation struggle killed by security forces.