Ever since Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans earlier this month to build “The Line,” a 105-mile-long belt of hyper-connected communities in the kingdom’s northeast that will have no cars, no streets and no carbon emissions, but which will have smart infrastructure costing up to $200 billion, the topic has been trending in the kingdom and in the Arab and global business communities.
The prince described a project that preserves the environment, “changes the concept of sustainable cities,” and answers the questions: “Why do we lose a million people annually due to accidents and why do we accept that years of human life are wasted in transportation.”
The Line will be able to house a million residents and will preserve 95% of the natural environment, he said.
It will be situated within the 10,200 sq. mi., $500 billion NEOM smart city and tourist destination project announced in 2017 and located in Tabuk Province.
NEOM will run along 285 miles of the Red Sea coast, near the Strait of Tiran and the Jordanian border, and not far from Israel and Egypt. The Public Investment Fund (the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund) and local financiers support the project. So far, no other country has officially announced an investment in NEOM.
The Line is to furnish a solid foundation for building a knowledge economy embracing myriad competencies, scientific minds and skills from different fields to serve humanity. It is projected to contribute to NEOM by creating 380,000 jobs and adding 180 billion riyals ($48 billion) to gross domestic product by 2030.
Work on the project will start in the first quarter of this year, and according to the crown prince’s announcement, it will be free of cars, any services will be able to be accessed in less than five minutes, and it will rely on artificial intelligence to analyze data.
After The Line project was announced, contracts were signed with Air Products and ACWA Power worth more than $4.7 billion to build the largest green hydrogen production facility in the world in NEOM, in an environmentally friendly manner, as were contracts with Aecom and Bechtel to design and manage one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever, including “one of the largest airports in the world,” Nazmi al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM, told local media.
Dr. Akbar Jaafari, a Bahraini economic expert, told The Media Line that The Line “will change the pattern in which the population used to work and live, especially in Gulf societies, and increase reliance on artificial intelligence projects, as happened previously with Silicon Valley in the United States of America, which later became the headquarters for large technology companies.”
He added, “Mohammed bin Salman’s announcement of this project means that the Saudi leadership has realized well the importance of gradually dispensing with the traditional economy, to become by 2030 a diversified economy, especially after [the kingdom] joined the G20 [group of the largest economies] and is the decision-maker among the countries of the region.
“The project is very important. … Several countries in the region will reproduce the idea of the city after about 10 years,” Jaafari said.
Dr. Muhammad Khaled, a Saudi economic expert, told The Media Line that “the project is located near the Red Sea, through which 13% of global trade traffic passes, and 40% of the world’s population can reach NEOM in less than four hours.
“Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in announcing the project, aims to attract global attention to Saudi Arabia. The Line will be an important place for artificial intelligence data and innovations, and if it succeeds in attracting foreign investment, the project will achieve many strategic goals and it will enhance the kingdom’s ability to safeguard its economy from global security concerns,” he added.
“Saudi Arabia has worked on these steps gradually. For several years, it has been the country granting the most scholarships to study abroad, so that there are great competencies in Saudi Arabia, and now these competencies will find their place in the kingdom,” Khaled said.
Dr. Ahmed al-Dossary, a Saudi professor of economics, told The Media Line that “The Line project is among the projects of the next generation of modern cities. The announcement by the Saudi crown prince of a project related to artificial intelligence, and the reliance on robots and advanced technologies in construction and design, makes it an important point in the next era.
“There are several mega projects that confirm that Saudi Arabia is changing its economic trends. NEOM, the Qiddiya [entertainment mega-initiative to be established in Riyadh] and other projects confirm that Saudi Arabia has changed the traditional pattern of its economic thinking,” the professor continued.
“The Saudi leadership’s current focus on projects inside the kingdom is a model many countries have pursued; in order to be strong externally, you must be strong internally, and then you will have an economy that is not much affected by global economic shocks,” Dossary said.
Dr. Mohammed al-Juwaisri, a Kuwaiti professor of political and economic science, assured The Media Line that “competition in the Middle East will increase after the Saudi steps with the big projects.
“The UAE made great achievements through giant and fantastic projects, and now Saudi Arabia is moving in this direction. Policies and economic trends must change, especially during the coming period in the world, and Saudi Arabia may be the leader of these changes,” he continued.
“The Saudi crown prince said it explicitly three years ago, that the region will be the focus of world attention, and he is working on that using the available resources. It is true that there are many economic obstacles, especially after the corona pandemic, but I think he will succeed,” the professor said.
“The Line project will not be limited to Saudi citizens but will include all countries of the region. Saudi Arabia, in announcing this project, has ensured that everyone will seek to be part of the new enterprise,” Juwaisri said.