A Saudi citizen who refused government orders to give up his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed by security forces, according to Saudi activists.
The man, who identified himself as Abdul Rahim Ahmad Mahmoud al-Hwaiti, said in a video posted online he was from the town of al-Khraybah in the northwest Red Sea region. He and other residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept financial compensation, he said.
Al-Hwaiti said in one video uploaded on YouTube that “anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents”. He called the government’s move “forced displacement”.
“This is my home,” he said, adding he would not move elsewhere in Saudi Arabia because he considers his tribal area his “own homeland”.
Al-Hwaiti said residents of the area do not want to be uprooted but are now living in fear because of what security forces might do to them.
“Nine people from my area have been arrested so far and I am sure I will be next – or even killed,” he said in one video. “I am sure if they kill me they would put weapons around my body and claim I was a terrorist.”
According to Saudi activists, al-Hwaiti was shot dead after recording his last video documenting security forces storming his property.
The Saudi government has not commented on the alleged killing. Calls to two government officials seeking comment rang unanswered on Wednesday.
Al-Hwaiti hails from the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe who are based in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Sinai in Egypt. The al-Huwaitat have resided in the region for more than 800 years, predating the Saudi state itself by many centuries over.
‘Uproot our people’
London-based Aliaa Abutayah is a Saudi political activist who opposes the Saudi leadership and hails from the city of Tabuk in the northwestern region.
She told Al Jazeera she received several videos – including one that shows the shooting of al-Hwaiti by Saudi security forces – from a witness and posted them on her Twitter account.
Abutayah alleged she has received death threats from Saudi agents because of her opposition to the government.
The Red Sea development, known as NEOM, is a mega-project envisioned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Tabuk province.
NEOM, which will be close to the size of Belgium, is to become a hub for “tourism, innovation and technology”. It is part of MBS’s Vision 2030 to transform Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-based economy.
According to NEOM’s website, the project will include “towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centres, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations”.
“It will be the home and workplace for more than a million citizens from around the world,” it said.
Hamzah al-Kinani, a Washington, DC-based Saudi academic and dissident who worked previously for a senior Saudi royal, told Al Jazeera tribes in the region refuse to leave because they consider it their ancestral homeland and the area is part of their “honour and heritage”.
“Those who don’t accept the government compensation to leave their homes, they will either be imprisoned or killed – as in the case of Abdul Rahim al-Hwaiti,” he said
Agreeing with al-Kanani’s comments, Washington, DC-based Saudi activist Ali al-Ahmad said he is not surprised that Saudi security forces allegedly killed al-Hwaiti.
Al-Ahmad, founder and director of the Institute of Gulf Affairs, said the Saudi government has carried out similar operations in other areas of the country, particularly in its eastern province.
“They have destroyed many other private properties and historical places like al-Musawara [a residential area in Awamiyah town in eastern Qatif province in 2017] in order to develop mega-projects that eventually enrich a certain few people in the kingdom – but not the public,” he said.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports