DUSHANBE, June 5 (The Conway Bulletin) — Saudi Arabia has agreed to build a new parliament building in the centre of Dushanbe, seen as an effort to curry influence.
Plans for the new parliament involve tearing down several Soviet-era buildings such as the current parliament building, the city administration, the ministry of agriculture and apartment blocks. The Iranian embassy will also be demolished to create space for the Saudi-financed parliament. Iran and Saudi Arabia are major regional rivals.
Saudi Arabia agreed in principle to fund the new parliament building when Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon visited Riyadh in January. Media has now reported that this was confirmed in May when Abdullah Ibn- Muhammad al Ash-Sheikh, the speaker of Saudi Parliament, visited Dushanbe.
Mr Rakhmon is keen on constructing extravagant buildings in Dushanbe including a flagpole that had at one time been the world’s tallest and Central Asia’s largest library. The largest theatre and biggest mosque in Central Asia are also planned. But with the economy stalling, remittances from Russia drying up and the financial system creaking, ordinary Tajiks are angry.
Romiz, a 34-year-old construction worker, told the Conway Bulletin that the authorities should be building something more useful.
“For instance, hospitals, schools, children’s centres, sport complexes, elderly houses. Is it necessary to build a palace for these idlers?” he said.
A Dushanbe-based analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, said that constructing a new building is part of Saudi Arabia’s attempt to play a more important role in the region.
“Tajikistan itself is not interesting for Saudi. They do all this only as part of their regional game against Iran,” he said.
>>This story was first published in issue 284 of the weekly Conway Bulletin, the top independent newspaper on Central Asia and the South Caucasus. For details on the newspaper and how to subscribe, go to http://www.conway.starbit.co.uk