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."


Italian Language Week celebrated

Updated 3 min 12 sec ago
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Italian Language Week celebrated

  • Italian Language Week was launched in 2001 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Accademia della Crusca

JEDDAH: The Consulate General of Italy in Jeddah celebrated the 18th Italian Language Week by hosting conference on Wednesday titled Language, Newspapers, Storytelling: Words and Graphics in Digital World. The event, at the Italian Cultural Center, was held under the patronage of the Italian president, in partnership with Arab News.

The conference was one of a series of events in Jeddah to mark the global celebration, which takes place each year during the third week of October and is promoted by the Italian cultural and diplomatic network. About 1,000 events are being held by the Italian community worldwide.

The conference included a seminar titled Italian Language and Visual Communication, which was presented by Adriano Attus, a graphics director at leading Italian financial newspaper Sole 24 ORE. Frank Kane, a distinguished Arab News columnist with 40 years of experience in the Western and Middle Eastern press, also took part and the seminar was moderated by Prof. Leonardo Romeid, vice dean of the Jeddah College of Advertising at The University of Business and Technology.

Attus, an editorial designer for the past 25 years, spoke about how the graphics in a newspaper are “at the service of the text,” and how creative forms of data visualization, including illustrations, diagrams and graphs, can help readers better understand and interact with the text. He also described the dramatic changes in the past decade to the ways in which newspapers are presented, and how more-visual content is becoming increasingly necessary and affecting the look of newspapers.

This year’s conference is the 10th hosted by the consulate in Saudi Arabia, and a different language-related theme is chosen each year, said Elisabetta Martini, the consul general in Jeddah. Last year’s theme was cinema, as expectations grew that theaters would reopen in the Kingdom.

“The tool we communicate the Italian language through is the network, the internet,” said Martini. “So we organized a series of seminars on how the network changes the language and changes the Italian language in particular. We are promoting the Italian language, Italian newspapers, and Italian designs.

“This year we are also promoting Saudi theater, and we are hosting a play next week titled ‘Head Over Heals Going to Italy.’ In this way, we are bridging cultures.”

Italian Language Week was launched in 2001 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Accademia della Crusca. They were subsequently joined in the initiative by Switzerland, where Italian is one of the official languages.

The Jeddah conference ended with a movie and pizza night, including a screening of the film “Finding Camille.”

“It is a recent (2017) Swiss-Italian movie,” said Charles Lardy, adviser to the political and economic sections at the embassy of Switzerland in Riyadh. “It tells the story of (a family dealing with) a severe case of Alzheimer’s. A woman’s father, who used to be a war journalist, is losing his memory and she decides to take him trip to relive parts of his life to help him regain his memory.

“The Italian language is the third language spoken in Switzerland, by 20 percent of the population, after French, which is spoken by 25 percent, and German, by 65 percent. We have a very old tradition of federalism that represents every part of our society, and we try to promote that.”