ALTHOUGH billions of dollars are invested in Mekah projects, many of the holy city's residents say that they feel abandoned by the Saudi government.
They claim that the rulers pool their money into services and projects around Masjidil Haram, to which pilgrims flock all year round, while the rest of the city is largely abandoned.
"Here there is no care for us, or our streets. There is no electricity or water in some areas. Mekah people are forgotten people," says 27-year-old Sami al-Mouled.
Mekah is a sacred site for over one billion Muslims worldwide. But despite the pride that inhabitants manifest for their city being the location of the Kaabah, they say other parts of the city need more attention.
Around Masjidil Haram, in the heart of the old city, the Saudi government has been launching renovation and expansion projects aimed at providing better facilities, air-conditioned shopping malls and residential towers for pilgrims. So far, around 50 hotels and modern towers occupy the area.
According to Mekah's official website, the mosque's northern courtyard is expected to eventually cover around 1.2 million square metres.
In the same area, Abraj al-bait, a multi-billion-dollar tower under construction which is designed to be the largest building in the world by mass, will have a grand prayer space which is expected to accommodate several thousand visitors.
Roads into the heart of the city are clean and paved.
Meanwhile the city is removing all "obstacles" around the mosque. Several traditional markets and stores are being closed down and relocated in order to install roads in their place.
Abraj al-Bait itself replaced the Ottoman-era Ajiad fort, which was more than 200 years old. The new tower should house hundreds of thousands of "A-class worshippers" who can afford its luxurious five-star bedrooms.
Neighbourhoods around the Kaabah swarm with apparel shops and Muslim accessories. Fast food restaurants are also in abundance, in addition to travel agencies. Sellers hawking prayer mats, beads and religion booklets fill the streets.
In contrast and only several kilometres away from the mosque, some Mekah streets are begging for renovation. As billions of Saudi Riyals are willingly spent in some districts, other streets are completely overlooked despite petitioning by the residents.
According to the local al-Nadwa newspaper, some old streets like al-Bayary is in close proximity to the mosque but suffer from lack of electricity and water facilities in addition to sewerage problems.
Residents of the area are forced to buy fresh water from profit-making sources who, they claim, exploit their need and sell water at high prices.
Jabal Abu-Lahab, an area where foreign and Saudi Muslims live, there are mostly garbage-riddled alleys. Here can be found dumped vehicles and stray animals, which residents fear for both sanitary and safety reasons. Deserted houses are also common, which according to al-Nadwa are houses that could be used for crime or by "those weak in souls".
And although authorities promise that money lavished on al-Haram projects is well-spent and will open up thousands of jobs for Mekah residents, Saudis living in this area youths topping the list are frustrated.
Al-Mouled is one of them. He says that the situation "is getting worse" by the day and that young people are dreaming of leaving the country all together for opportunities elsewhere.
The young Saudi, who studied sales and merchandising, is unemployed like many his age.
He explains that "any work in Mekah needs capital and resources, which many young men here do not have".
There is no official statistics available, but observers say that unemployment among youth in the city could be as high as 50 per cent. DPA
Sunday, April 15, 2007
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