Tribesman killed for resisting Saudi robot city?


Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing¬†official accounts alleging that a northern tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces.¬†Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti,¬†from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a “wanted terrorist”¬†who opened fire on State Security agents when they arrived at his home in¬†Khraybah town April 15. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted¬†a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties¬†and accept financial compensation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, said: “Anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents.” He accused the government¬†of a policy of “forced displacement.”

“This is my home,”¬†he asserted in the statement, insisting that he would not move elsewhere in Saudi Arabia because he considers his tribal area his “own homeland.”¬†He added: “I am against the forced removal of people. I don’t want to leave, I want to stay in my home. I do not want compensation, I don’t want anything. I only want my home.” Seeming to predict what would happen just days later, he said: “Nine people from my area have been arrested so far and I am sure I will be next‚ÄĒor even killed… I am sure if they kill me they would put weapons around my body and claim I was a terrorist.”

The mega-project at issue is the¬†NEOM, a planned¬†hub for “tourism, innovation and technology”¬†under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030¬†scheme to transform Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-based economy. Covering an area nearly¬†the size of Belgium, the NEOM is conceived as a high-tech “special economic zone.”¬†The name is a portmanteau of the Latin prefix¬†“neo,” meaning new, with the letter M representing “mostaqbal,”¬†the Arabic word for future.¬†It is said that robots will actually outnumber human residents¬†in the NEOM. (Last October, Saudi Arabia¬†became the first country to bestow “citizenship rights” on a robot, a humanoid named “Sophia.”)

Saudi activists have¬†dubbed al-Hwaiti the “Martyr of NEOM,”¬†which is being used as a hashtag on social media. Authorities waited over a week before returning his body, and there was a heavy State Security force at his funeral.¬†(PRI, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Middle East Monitor, SaudiLeaks, Supply Management, KCRW, The Hill, Saudi24, BBC News)

Plans for similar corporate techno-cities have been announced in recent years from the United Arab Emirates to China to Honduras.

Image via NeoScribe