Despite Minister of City Planning and Environment Murat Kurum vowing that the land around the controversial Kanal Istanbul project would not be zoned for profitable development, it has been revealed that a number of Arab businesspeople have purchased large swathes of land near the route of the project.
According to a report in the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper, Kuwaiti businessman Wael N Y Alnusef purchased 53,000 square meters of land in the area, while Saudi businessman Suleiman al Muhaidib purchased 9000 square meters of land. It was reported last week that Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the mother of the emir of Qatar, purchased 44,000 square meters of land near the route of Kanal Istanbul.
Dubbed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself as his “crazy project”, Kanal Istanbul involves the carving of an artificial shipping canal on the far western outskirts of Istanbul between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, thereby rendering a huge section of Istanbul’s European side an island.
The project has attracted significant controversy as environmentalists, activists and other opponents of the project argue that it would result in devastating ecological consequences. While Erdoğan says the project is geared toward relieving shipping traffic on the Bosphorus, critics say it is merely another megaproject that seeks to benefit from the real estate development that is likely to surge in the area and its surrounding districts.
Kuwaiti businessman Alnusef established a real estate and tourism company in Turkey in 2013, based in the Başakşehir district of Istanbul. That company purchased a plot of land in the Yassıören village of Istanbul’s Arnavütköy district in December of last year. The Saudi businessman al Muhaidib purchased a parcel of land in the area in 2015.
“An Arab canton is nearly being established. The area around Kanal Istanbul has turned into a rent market. If [the project’s] name was “Rent-flowing Kanal” it would be better,” said Istanbul municipal council member Nadir Ataman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Erdoğan confirmed the land purchase of the mother of the Qatari emir in a statement on Dec. 20, strongly refuting claims that the Turkish state had aided in the acquiring of the land.