Saudis to re­de­velop lib­er­ated Awamiya

Plan set to trans­form area into glass-fronted vil­las, shop­ping malls, and foun­tains shaded by palm fronds

Gulf News - - GULF -

Posters of sump­tu­ous vil­las and palm-fringed boule­vards hang in the bat­tle-scarred old quar­ter of Awamiya.

The lat­est wave of vi­o­lence erupted in the sum­mer when au­thor­i­ties be­gan tear­ing down the neigh­bour­hood of Mu­sawara, a walled area dat­ing back to the Ot­toman Em­pire, say­ing its labyrinthine streets and maze­like struc­tures had be­come a breed­ing ground for ter­ror­ists.

The de­mo­li­tions prompted antigov­ern­ment ter­ror­ists to clash with gov­ern­ment forces which turned the town into a war zone.

The outer walls of build­ings and mosques are con­stel­la­tions of bul­let holes.

Ter­ror­ist prob­lem

Man­gled car­casses of burnt-out cars lay strewn across its once-vi­brant streets.

Bro­ken roller shutters ex­pose moul­der­ing jars of jam and cook­ies in a scorched gro­cery store.

A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who gave jour­nal­ists a rare tour of Mu­sawara drew a tri­an­gle in the sand with a twig to de­scribe the fight­ing.

“Ter­ror­ists,” he said, point­ing at the apex of the tri­an­gle and “gov­ern­ment forces” at the base.

“In be­tween, house, house, house,” he said, ex­plain­ing how pitched bat­tles be­tween the op­pos­ing sides wrought destruc­tion on the neigh­bour­hood. In Au­gust, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced the end of a three-month cam­paign to flush out gun­men from Mu­sawara.

“This is not a Shi­ite-Sunni prob­lem; this is a ter­ror­ist prob­lem,” the of­fi­cial said.

“We tar­get any­one who is dan­ger­ous for the coun­try — Shi­ite or Sunni.”

Awamiya, a town of around 25,000 peo­ple, has seen bouts of un­rest since 2011 when protests erupted.

“We hope Awamiya will be re­stored to its for­mer glory,” said Mo­ham­mad Ali Al Shoy­oukh, an el­derly res­i­dent who re­cently re­turned to the area af­ter the fight­ing sub­sided. “Hon­estly, we are tired.”

The gov­ern­ment, mean­while, is press­ing ahead with the multi-mil­lion-dol­lar plan to re­de­velop the area.

The town’s act­ing mayor Es­sam Al Mulla gave jour­nal­ists a video pre­sen­ta­tion of his blue­print to trans­form the waste­land with glass-fronted vil­las, foun­tains and shop­ping malls, shaded by ver­dant palm fronds and bordered by man­i­cured lawns.

“It will now take two years to com­plete,” he said.

Project’s cost

The cost of the project is un­clear but Mulla said the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age alone for 488 Mu­sawara homes slated for de­mo­li­tion would cost around 800 mil­lion riyals ($213 mil­lion; Dh783.6 mil­lion).

He brushed aside crit­i­cism from the United Na­tions that the destruc­tion would erase the neigh­bour­hood’s “unique re­gional her­itage”, say­ing that ef­forts were in place to main­tain an­cient struc­tures in­clud­ing tra­di­tional wells.

De­spite the re­cent un­rest, he said, a ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents sup­ported the re­de­vel­op­ment as most homes were un­suit­able for habi­ta­tion.

AFP

A bul­let-rid­dled wall in Awamiya, in the east­ern Qatif re­gion.

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