Here’s how Saudi is making ‘Neom-the eco-city’

Saudi authorities have reportedly sanctioned the use of lethal force to clear land for a futuristic desert city Neom being developed by numerous Western companies, according to a former intelligence officer interviewed by the media.

Colonel Rabih Alenezi claims he was instructed to remove villagers from a tribe in Saudi Arabia to make room for The Line, a component of the Neom eco-project. One villager was allegedly shot and killed for protesting against the eviction.

The Saudi government and Neom management declined to provide comments on the matter. Neom, a $500 billion eco-region in Saudi Arabia, is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 strategy aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy away from oil. The Line, its flagship project, is envisioned as a car-free city, but only a small portion is projected to be completed by 2030.

Numerous global companies, including several British firms, are involved in the construction of Neom. The region where Neom is situated has been described as an ideal “blank canvas” by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but over 6,000 people have reportedly been displaced for the project, according to the Saudi government. However, UK-based human rights group ALQST estimates the number to be higher.

Colonel Alenezi, now in exile in the UK, alleges that he was instructed to clear the village of al-Khuraybah, predominantly inhabited by the Huwaitat tribe, for The Line. He claims that the clearance order authorized the use of lethal force against those who resisted eviction.

Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, who refused to cooperate with authorities during the eviction process, was allegedly shot and killed by Saudi authorities. Human rights organizations and the UN contend that he was killed merely for resisting eviction.

The BBC was unable to independently verify Colonel Alenezi’s claims about the authorization of lethal force. However, a source familiar with Saudi intelligence operations stated that the colonel’s testimony aligned with their understanding of such missions.

Numerous villagers were reportedly detained for resisting evictions, with many facing terror-related charges, according to the UN and ALQST. Compensation offered to those displaced for The Line project has allegedly fallen short of promises made by the Saudi government.

Former Neom executive Andy Wirth and British desalination company CEO Malcolm Aw have criticized the project’s handling and impact on local communities. Wirth left the project disillusioned, while Aw emphasized the importance of involving local populations in development plans.

Displaced villagers have been hesitant to speak out, fearing repercussions, but some individuals affected by similar projects under Saudi Vision 2030 have voiced their concerns. The demolition of neighborhoods for projects like the Jeddah Central project has sparked outrage among activists and residents.

Col. Alenezi, still concerned for his safety, alleges that he was offered a large sum of money to attend a meeting at the Saudi embassy in London but declined. Attacks on critics of the Saudi government, such as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, underscore concerns about dissent.

Despite the risks, Col. Alenezi stands by his decision to oppose orders related to the Neom project, expressing worry about potential harm to his own people in the pursuit of building Neom.

The situation surrounding Neom and similar projects highlights broader concerns about the treatment of local populations and the prioritization of development over human rights. Displaced individuals, often marginalized and lacking adequate compensation or legal recourse, face significant challenges in seeking justice or voicing their grievances.

The use of lethal force and intimidation tactics against those resisting eviction underscores the lengths to which authorities are willing to go to push forward with ambitious development plans. Such actions not only violate fundamental human rights but also perpetuate a cycle of oppression and injustice.

Critics argue that the rush to implement grandiose projects like Neom without proper consideration for the rights and well-being of affected communities ultimately undermines the sustainability and legitimacy of these initiatives. True progress, they contend, requires genuine engagement with local stakeholders, respect for human rights, and transparent, accountable governance.

As the international community becomes increasingly aware of these issues, there is growing pressure on governments and corporations involved in large-scale development projects to uphold ethical standards and prioritize the rights and dignity of all individuals affected by their actions.

Ultimately, the case of Neom serves as a stark reminder of the complex ethical and moral dilemmas inherent in modern development efforts, and underscores the need for greater transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights in shaping the future of our communities and societies.

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