Saudi Arabia returns body of slain tribal activist who resisted NEOM eviction following intense pressure
Last week, Saudi police confessed to Al-Howeiti’s killing, after he refused to leave his hometown to make room for the construction of Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman’s $500 billion NEOM project, a sprawling metropolis packed with tech companies and resorts, part of a scheme to reduce the kingdom’s dependency on oil.
According to an official government statement, Al-Howeiti – a charismatic tribal activist known for his highly vocal, long-standing opposition to the forcible displacement of nearly 20,000 members of his centuries-old Howeitat tribe – engaged security forces in a firefight, before succumbing to gunshot wounds.
On Wednesday, a video circulating on social media shows large crowds gathered among parked SUVs, awaiting a large security convoy, in which one vehicle arrives carrying the body of the slain activist, which is received by the crowd amid jubilant cries.
The move is akin to a rare instance where Saudi authorities have cowered in the face of mounting grassroots pressure.
A Twitter account, purportedly that of Al-Howeiti's brother, made a series of posts describing the strict conditions laid out by police regarding the transfer of his brother’s body.
The family’s request to carry out the burial in Al-Khuraybah had been staunchly opposed, dashing hopes that he could be laid to rest next to his father. Police instead demanded that the burial be conducted some 160km east, in the city of Tabuk.
The traditional Islamic burial service was also to be attended by a select group of individuals, the post added.
Activists responded to the tweets, and the hashtag #where_is_the_body_of_Abdul_Rahim_Al-Howeiti appeared in almost a hundred posts.
One enraged user had described the "days ahead" as offering a "ripe opportunity for all other indigenous tribes to revolt against Saudi despotism".
Another user, likewise, impassioned, called on the collective "defeat of [the House of Saud]" and added, "your struggle is our struggle."
The New Arab reached out to the account holder for comment - Shadili Abu-Taqiqa Al-Howeiti - and is awaiting a response.
Critics of Saudi Arabia’s deplorable human rights record will see this a grassroots victory to preserve Al-Howeiti's legacy for his people - whom he accused the government of seeking to displace, for the sake a project entirely alien to their history and traditions.
Separately, Al Jazeera on Wednesday reported witnesses who say that eight members of the Al-Howeiti tribe were arrested, also for refusing to give up their homes for the NEOM project.
Since the launch of the project, Howeitat tribespeople have expressed dismay at plans to relocate them without any consultation, launching campaigns to raise awareness of their plight, most recently in January.
While the Saudi government has offered them monetary compensation, the longstanding tribe have reportedly refused and vowed to resist the plan, including by force if necessary.
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