When it rained at dawn, Aamir Farouk was prepared for the worst. He left in his red jeep to join a voluntary rescue effort, knowing that Jeddah could soon be under water. He was right: 15 minutes from home, he found a dozen cars that were already stranded by the growing flood.
Saudi Arabia may be under a new administration, but the scene in its second largest city was familiar. Jeddah was hit by floods in 2009 and 2011, killing more than 100 people. The Saudis blamed corruption and poor infrastructure: billions of riyals were spent; somehow he could not buy a decent drainage system.
The November 21 replay left them wondering how much has changed now that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is in charge. There were at least three deaths. Farouk, 28, said he spent all day towing people to safety. As the storm passed and frustrated residents waded or paddled through the streets, many asked the same question and came to the same answer.
"It's been almost ten years since the last flood," said Abdulrahman Ashgan, a 31-year-old coffee owner, whose roof caused a leak despite the fact that there are seven floors above. "After that there were investigations and blah, blah, blah." What happened? Nothing. "
Officers and businessmen were imprisoned during an investigation into the first floods in Jeddah, Prince Mohammed reopened the investigation, part of what is presented as a broader campaign to eradicate corruption, which has stopped dozens of royals and businessmen.
The prince also says he will put an end to Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, loosen its austere social codes and eradicate Islamic extremism.It is an ambitious agenda, viewed with skepticism outside the realm, where It is often considered that the graft repression is a cover for a power take-off or a shake.At home, many Saudis are optimistic about their new leader.To retain that goodwill, they will have to offer concrete improvements at the local level, like streets that do not flood when it rains.
"He has promised, and now he has to comply," said Gregory Gause, a Saudi specialist in the University of Texas A & M. "It is clearly exciting a lot of populist anger towards those who have benefited from the system," Gause said. "But now he is the system, and it may not be possible to put out that populist anger like a water tap."
When the Jeddawis repaired their property with leaks and tried to make the damaged cars work again, some said they do not really care who is arrested or how much money was stolen. They want to see results.
"Act together!" Said Abdulaziz Almaghraby, a 22-year-old student who addressed the Saudi authorities. "It rained for a few hours," he said, maneuvering his car around stagnant ponds that blocked the road more than a day later. "And look".
Almost three years have passed since King Salman ascended to the Saudi throne and began to transfer the levers of power, one by one, into the hands of his son and heir. The potential rivals of Prince Mohammed have been marginalized. One result is that no one is left to block the prince's plans; another is that, as expectations increase, there is no one else to blame if they are not met.
There is a "heavy weight on the shoulders of the prince of the Saudi crown," said Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi researcher at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. "People expect this time the crisis will be resolved differently." .
As if to prove it, on the day of the flood, the Saudi poet Mofareh al-Shaqiqi posted a picture of Prince Mohammed on Twitter, accompanied by a plea. "From 2009 until today, people are drowning," he wrote. "The solutions did not work, the promises were a mirage and the streets are a scandal … In short, all we have is you: teacher of justice."
Turki Al Rasheed, a prominent Saudi businessman, said it is intrinsically risky when expectations rise faster than the government's ability to meet. That is why it makes sense to share responsibilities among multiple stakeholders, he said. "If it's a single person, expectations skyrocket."
Others say that the low level of services established by Saudi governments in the past will play in favor of Prince Mohammed. The "large amount of room for improvement" should allow the government to exceed citizens' expectations, said Mohammed Alyahya, a fellow non-resident at the Atlantic Council.
There is a harsh economic reality behind the government's efforts to claim money from wealthy Saudis says they are corrupt. Oil prices are about half of their 2014 peak, putting pressure on public finances. That means that a change in how cities are handled is inevitable, Alyahya said. Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed is casting off the old guard and promoting a new generation of officials.
"The incentives are aligned in such a way that there is reward for someone to take control of the Jeddah municipality and deliver results," Alyahya said. "It's no longer an option to keep a low profile and extract as much cash as you can."
The city government said it deployed more than 4,500 workers to pump streets without water and quickly restored "normal life". "The municipality did not answer questions about whether corruption had played a role in the flood, or what would be done to avoid it in the future."
Asghan was reflecting exactly on that question while leaning on the wooden bar of her coffee, with Billie Holiday humming in the background.
"It's not reasonable for us to spend billions and billions on infrastructure projects, and things like that, and we do not see results," he said. "So really, what's the problem? Where is the problem? Who is guilty? "