Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 fulfillment: pros and cons

    11 May 2021

    2021 Saudi media describe as a year of execution and the start of the construction work for Saudi Arabia projects. Journalists believe them to be “the largest of their kind in the world”.

    Let’s check what Saudi Gazette tells us about Vision 2030 fulfillment.

    The aim of this programme is reducing the country’s dependence on oil by facilitating the emergence of a robust private sector.

    Since the beginning of the year 2021, the Crown Prince has launched a number of, as he states, “pivotal” projects. Among them is the announcement of THE LINE. Saudi leader describes it as “the cleanest and smartest city”. He believes that this is a “world class model of future cities”.

    Also the Crown Prince announced the launch of the designs of the islands of the “Red Sea” Project and new AlUla Development Program titled “A Journey Through Time.”

    In addition, 2021 saw the launch of the SR11 billion “Souda Development Project”;

    ·opening of the first “alternative energy” projects in Sakaka;

    ·the announcement of the “Riyadh strategy” and the strategy of the Public Investment Fund;

    ·launching of a landmark public-private partnership titled “Shareek.”

    As these projects and programs are set to generate more than 1.6 million jobs at the minimum level. Saudi leaders desire to complete the Vision projects and achieve its goals unhindered under any circumstances.

    From the text that follows, it will become clear to you that there are serious obstacles to the construction of cities. And they not only relate to the pandemic, but also to US policy.

    Zero-carbon city without cars and streets

    In the beginning of the year 2021, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, chairman of the Board of Directors of NEOM, announced THE LINE project. He describes it as a cornerstone of Saudi Vision 2030 and an economic engine for the Kingdom.

    Neom is a planned cross-border city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia.

    THE LINE has to be a huge, new zero-carbon city at NEOM, a mega project and a key pillar of the Vision 2030. THE LINE will be home to a million people and have no cars and no streets.

    Saudi leaders advertise this smart-city as a “blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony”.

    THE LINE has to represent an “iconic eco-friendly urban city” free of carbon emissions and a model for what humanity aspires for in preserving the planet. Saudi officials describe it as a consistent with the data of the quality of life and the activation of technical energy and artificial intelligence.

    Upon announcing the project, the Crown Prince described that the launch of “THE LINE” at this particular time comes as the outcome of the preparations and planning of the past three years.

    The results of the first four years of Vision 2030

    From the US NGOs point of view, there’s Atlantic Council report that doubts “glitzy megaprojects” like smart-cities in desert. AC experts Stephen Grand and Katherine Wolff released in 2020 “Assessing Saudi Vision 2030: A 2020 review”.

    Authors state that Saudi Arabia initially decided to evaluate with benchmark goals the first four years of its economic transformation in 2020. With unfortunate timing, the coronavirus pandemic and dramatic shock to oil prices hit Saudi Arabia’s economy hard in 2020.

    The project the Saudi royals took on was never going to be easy. But plummeting oil prices, disruption of global trade and financial markets, a freeze on industries like tourism, and huge lost productivity in the government and private sector spell an uncertain future for the Saudi plan, authors conclude.

    Even before the pandemic, the government’s detention of wealthy Saudi businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and increasing tensions with Iran had diverted international attention from the economic reform effort and damaged Saudi Arabia’s international reputation.

    However, it is perhaps clearer than ever that it remains in the interest of Saudi Arabia and the United States for the economic transformation to succeed.

    “The government has emphasized glitzy megaprojects over the more mundane tasks of reform”, US experts conclude. The Saudi government has tried to dazzle international investors with its reform plans.

    The crown prince, for instance, has promoted heavily during his trips abroad the development of NEOM, an isolated and largely uninhabited 10,200-square-acre region on the westernmost border of Saudi Arabia that he hopes will attract the best talent to relocate there from around the world.

    For the Saudi government, NEOM became a way of trying to change the country’s image, particularly in the eyes of foreigners. The project was a means of signaling that Saudi Arabia was no longer a country known primarily for its vast oil wealth, conservative clerics, and strict penal code, but instead one pioneering new, cutting-edge technologies and innovation. “That rebranding effort was severely derailed by the murder of Khashoggi”, experts say.

    More to the point, though, the economics behind NEOM are questionable at best. Government-designed megaprojects of this sort have a poor track record, especially in Saudi Arabia, Atlantic Council experts conclude.

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