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Family of slain Saudi activist speaks out against Saudi Arabia's NEOM 'compensation plan' Open in fullscreen

Gasia Ohanes

Family of slain Saudi activist speaks out against Saudi Arabia's NEOM 'compensation plan'

Neom, part of the Kingdom’s economic reform plan, has evicted local tribes. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 June, 2020

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Saudi Arabia has been accused of offering NEOM compensation money 'under threats' to members of the Huwaiti tribe who were evicted to make way for the Crown Prince's investment project.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday publicised a compensation plan for NEOM residents evicted from their homes, claiming it will give away plots of land in the futuristic city. 

Saudi citizens who "qualify for compensation" will receive financial compensation as well as land in the city, Saudi-owned outlets reported, while outraged evicted residents took to social media to voice their opposition to the plan.

NEOM is a controversial cross-border megacity that was proposed by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman under the Kingdom's 2030 vision to diversify its economy away from oil.

While construction is still underway, thousands of locals and tribal families who had lived in the region for centuries were forcibly evicted from their homes. In April, Saudi activist Abdul-Rahman al-Howeiti of the Howeitat tribe was killed by Saudi while resisting eviction.

The slain activist's sister, Alya Alhwaiti, has launched a social media using the hashtag #JusticeforNeomVictims seeking to bring light to rights violations carried out in order to see MbS' NEOM project come to fruition. 

She is also calling for an international and independent investigation into forced evictions of locals carried out by Saudi authorities to push through NEOM.

Alya Alhuwaiti's campaign is now serving as the sole local voice of opposition to the offered compensations. Saudi media offers no space for criticism of MbS' plans.

Members of the local Huwaiti tribe have joined in saying compensation is not an option for those forcibly removed.

"Whoever evicts you from your home because of an investment project, and then comes to you while you're away [from home] and puts money in your hand - regardless of the amount - is he honouring you or insulting you?" Shadle Abou Takika al-Huwaiti wrote on twitter.

Saudi Arabia is also offering extremely low prices as compensation, Shadle al-Huwaiti suggested.

"Our land... close to the port of Khraibeh has palm trees that are 120 years old. Its market value is in the dozens of millions," Shadle Al-Huwaiti said.

Al-Huwaiti claimed that the family was offered just a measly fraction of the real value as compensation for the eviction.

Saudi Arabia unveiled the news during a press conference held by Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Emir of Tabuk, where the NEOM city will be built.

MbS had agreed to allocate a free plot of land to all those covered by a compensation scheme, the emir said, without clarifying the exact conditions for eligibility. Lands will be distributed from the coast, Duba governorate, or the city of Tabuk he said.

Prince Fahd bin Sultan said that the first batch of installments are already being handed out to "improve the standard of living for residents of NEOM".

In a series of critical public tweets, Alya Alhwaiti alleged that even the compensations were being forced through by authorities.

"Under intimidation, 18 people were brought in from Al-Hwait [tribe] to be given compensation for more than 800 years of history," Alhwaiti said, adding that Riyadh had also imprisoned and murdered members of the tribe.

Much of the local heritage has been bulldozed and residences demolished to make way for the new mega-city, while nearly 20,000 people are expected to be evicted.

"The NEOM project which is intended to become an imprint of civilisation is built on blood," Huwaiti said.

The $500 billion mega city in the northwestern Tabuk province is funded by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) - under the control of MbS - and is yet to be completed, with question marks over the crown prince's Vision 2030 projects due to recent financial losses.

Read also: Western firms complicit in the human cost of Saudi Arabia's dystopian Neom megacity

Failing to acknowledge the tribe's pleas, Prince Fahd bin Sultan spoke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's optimism on NEOM, in spite of a current coronavirus-mandated halt on construction.

The Tabuk emir said that the crown prince was still adamant to see the futuristic city become reality by 2030. 

NEOM's land mass is set to extend into Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering it the first private zone to span three countries, according to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya

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