Makkah slum dwellers fear eviction

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Updated 13 November 2012
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Makkah slum dwellers fear eviction

MAKKAH: Close to the Grand Mosque and the glitzy 5-star hotels surrounding it lie slums whose mostly immigrant dwellers fear they will be evicted to make way for new high rises and malls.
In one such slum on Jabal Omar, humans, cats, lizards and mosquitoes coexist among piles of garbage, with sewage running openly along the narrow tracks on the rugged hill.
Children and old men in rags move about idly among the cracked adobe buildings.
The impoverished neighborhoods are divided by nationality, with the Yemeni quarter at the bottom of the hill, then the Africans and finally, at the very top, the Burmese, residents say.
"I first arrived here from Yemen when I was 15 years old," says 58-year-old Abu Ali. "I used to work as a plumber, but now that I've grown old and weak I work as a janitor."
Despite such squalid conditions, "I'm better off here than I would be in Yemen," said Abu Ali, referring to Yemen, from which many try to flee to Saudi Arabia in search of a better life.
Further up the hill's steep incline dotted with piles of trash, 24-year-old Mohammed Saleh sits on a time-worn step joking with a group of friends.
Beneath his tough exterior, Saleh reveals a vulnerable young man to whom life has not been so kind. "I couldn't continue my studies after my father was diagnosed with cancer," says Saleh, a sharp-eyed Yemeni who was born and raised on Jabal Omar.
"I'm happy here. It's a great neighborhood," he says with a grin. "Really, as long as I'm on the mountain I'm happy."
"Killings and thefts are more frequent if you climb further up the mountain, but here we haven't got such things," he says.
Saleh says many of the people living on Jabal Omar have been there "for 40 and 50 years. They are used to it... They could live nowhere else."
He points at a thick cable running along the ground where a stream of sewage is flowing. "This is the electricity we get," he says. "As for water, we haven't had any in about two months."
The residents of this and other poor neighborhoods across the holy city fear only one thing: a plan by the authorities to demolish the whole area to give way to modern developments.
"I rent the house I'm living in now for SR 1,000," said Abu Ali. "If it's gone, I wouldn't be able to find another apartment for less than SR 2,000. That's my whole salary."
Makkah Mayor Osama Albar has said the slum development project will cost "around $ 3 billion" and will take place in phases.
It will offer home owners living in these shabby, hilly neighborhoods a choice of either selling their properties to the government or taking shares in the new projects.
People who have rented apartments there, mostly immigrants, will also be offered assistance in finding flats at prices similar to what they now pay.
Around the Grand Mosque, the government has for years been expanding facilities to accommodate the increasing numbers of pilgrims arriving every year for Haj and Umrah. The ancient mud brick buildings have given way to skyscrapers.
The Makkah Development Authority's website says the slums in Makkah, as well as in Jeddah and Taif, where a combined total of nearly one million people live, "create a security, environmental and health challenge."
In Makkah, some 70 slums make up 25 percent of the city's urban area, it says.
Jabal Omar Development Co says it is developing a 230,000 sq. meter project, of which 52 percent will be dedicated to residential buildings.
The company's development, which also features towers and shopping areas, lies across the road from the Grand Mosque's plaza.
At the foot of the hill, African women, most of them Nigerians who usually come during Haj and stay, spread along the road selling anything they can get their hands on, including food, clothing and carpets.
"I come with my mother's friends who sell things here," says 16-year-old Shaza. "We sell everything."
"We're fine here, but we're now worried about having our houses demolished," she said. If this happens, "we don't know what we'll do. If we can, we'll stay here. Otherwise we'll have to return home."


Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

Updated 58 min 46 sec ago
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Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

  • Iran-backed militias have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, says analyst
  • This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017

JEDDAH: The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted and destroyed two missiles launched from Yemen by Iran-aligned Houthi militias on Monday. 

The missiles were reported to have been heading toward Makkah and Jeddah. 

A spokesman for the Arab Coalition said that the missiles were destroyed over Taif in the early morning, and that fragments from the first projectile had landed in Wadi Jalil, a valley that extends toward Makkah.

Residents in Jeddah told Arab News that they heard a loud blast early on Monday morning.

This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017.

Videos circulating on social media reportedly show the second missile being intercepted and destroyed in the skies over King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Houthi attack and commended the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces for their vigilance. 

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said: “This isn’t the first time that the Houthis and their masters in Tehran have fired missiles close to the holy city of Makkah.” 

They have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, he added. 

“They care nothing for the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan. What they did today, and what they did in the past, clearly reveal their sinister designs to strike at the heart of the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

“Now is the time for all Muslim nations in the world to come to the defense of the holy land. Our sacred places are under attack from Iran, the Houthis and their militias,” he added.

“Mere condemnation won’t do. Iran and the Houthis have crossed a red line, and this calls for deterrent action against Tehran,” he said.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government also condemned the Houthis’ attempt to target Makkah, calling it “a full-fledged terrorist attack.”

Monday’s aggression came as Saudi Arabia warned that recent drone attacks against its oil-pumping stations by the Houthis will jeopardize UN peace efforts in Yemen and lead to further escalation in the region.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, said “seven explosive drones” directed by the Houthis attacked pumping stations on May 14 in the cities of Dawadmi and Afif “on the east-west oil pipeline that transfers Saudi oil to Yanbu port and to the rest of the world.”

He urged UN Security Council members, in a letter circulated on Monday, “to disarm this terrorist militia in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks which increase regional tensions and raise the risks of a broader regional confrontation.”

Al-Shehri said Monday’s attack is a reminder to Muslim nations about the clear and present danger from Iran.  “Tehran timed the attack just as King Salman has called for a meeting in Makkah to discuss the threat from Iran to the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

Saudi security forces have intercepted and destroyed 227 ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis at the Kingdom since 2015.