WhatsApp is banned in Saudi Arabia

Alcohol allowed, cars forbidden : Saudi Arabia will start building an emission-free mega-city in March

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is planning a new mega project with which he wants to go down in history as a visionary. As the city of the future, the heir to the throne and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia praises the settlement “The Line”, which is to be built on the Saudi Red Sea shores from March.

A million people are said to live there along a 170-kilometer line, and despite the huge size of the test-tube city, everything they need for daily life can be reached on foot within five minutes. The entire infrastructure, such as traffic and power lines, is being laid underground: “The Line” has no roads and no cars.

Critics accuse the prince of megalomania. The heir to the throne wants to polish up his reputation as a brutal autocrat and waste billions on it.

Alcohol allowed, cars forbidden

According to Saudi figures, "The Line" will cost up to $ 200 billion. The city is the first part of the future project "Neom", which is being built on the Red Sea and is intended to connect cities, ports, research institutions and high-tech companies with modern, CO2-free living.

Unlike in the rest of Saudi Arabia, alcohol consumption should be allowed in "Neom"; Women don't have to veil themselves. Overall, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, estimates around 500 billion dollars for "Neom".

The project represents the 35-year-old Crown Prince's plan to lead the monarchy into a future after the oil era. The switch pays off, says the Saudi government: in ten years, "The Line" should generate almost 50 billion dollars for the state budget.

“Zero cars, zero roads, zero CO2 emissions”, MBS promised when “The Line” was presented on Saudi television. Urban planning focuses not on traffic, but on people. Long trips to work should also be a thing of the past, as should air pollution and traffic accidents.

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In tubes under the city, self-driving cars and a super-fast subway will be available, with which the residents of "The Line" can travel from one end of the city to the other in a maximum of 20 minutes. The construction of the city should leave 95 percent of the nature in the area along the line untouched.

Walkable cities of the future

The concept of “The Line” is based on the urban planning trend of the “15-minute city”, which is supposed to make big cities more livable. This is how Paris wants to become a 15-minute city. There are similar projects in Melbourne and New York. “The Line” goes even further.

The residents should have to go to schools, restaurants, parks or supermarkets for a maximum of five minutes. They live along the line in several settlements that are connected by the underground traffic route.

In the brave new world of MBS, as advertised in a computer simulation, artificial intelligence is said to play a major role. The project promises nothing less than a "revolution in urban life": "A home for all of us."

The members of the Howeitat tribe see it differently. "Neom is built on our bones and our blood," a representative of the tribe told the British Guardian. At least 20,000 people will be expelled from the area in northwest Saudi Arabia to make way for "Neom" and "The Line".

Activists warn Western investors

Activists warn Western companies against putting money in "The Line" and thus in an "archaic and authoritarian regime", as Bethany Alhaidari, co-founder of the human rights organization SAJP, wrote on Twitter. "I strongly advise investors to stay away."

The MBS reform program provides for an economic reorientation for Saudi Arabia, but no more rights for the citizens. Many activists are in prison. Ever since the Crown Prince had the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of the regime, murdered in 2018, he has had the reputation of a brutal autocrat in the West. So far, “Neom” has met with little interest from investors.

With “The Line”, MBS wants to go on the offensive again, but critics doubt that it is on the right track. The Crown Prince is primarily concerned with his own fame, commented human rights activist Walid al-Hathloul on Twitter.

Hathloul, a brother of the imprisoned Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, not only thinks the plans for the line city are nonsense, but also the whole “Neom” project with its planned flying taxis and robots for the household: MBS operates city planning like a "Video game".

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