Analyzing the Environmental and Social Factors of the Saudi Arabian Project “The Line”

Nidia Lazos



In this podcast, I talk about “The Line,” which is a new project that is being built by the company NEOM. This project has brought a lot of attention to Saudi Arabia because of its size and purpose. This building is going to be 170 kilometers long and it will run on 100 percent renewable energy. “The Line” would also aid Saudi Arabia in meeting the goals stated in its NDC. It’ll include advanced technology, and it’s going to be built along the coast of the Red Sea. There have also been concerns that the size of this building would have an impact on the surrounding environment due to the amount of energy and resources it will take to build it.

There are some controversial details behind this project though, one of them being the displacement of Indigenous people in the Huwaitat tribe. There are also a lot of social and political factors contributing to this project. One example would be the negotiations Saudi Arabia would have with Israel to gain access and permission to build a bridge connecting NEOM and Egypt. It is also speculated that “The Line” might run under different customs than Saudi Arabia and align similarly to western laws. This project is meant to open doors for new technology and architecture, but there is speculation on whether these opportunities are worth it when unethical actions were committed to make this project a reality.



When you think of the perfect oasis, a place where you could retire for the rest of your life, what do you think of? A sunny beach in Bora Bora [bird sounds], maybe a cabin in the middle of the woods [wood burning], or possibly a ski resort in Aspen [wind blowing]. Have you ever stopped to consider that the perfect destination could be in a massive infrastructure found in the middle of the desert?

[Opening music]

Hello, my name is Nidia Lazos. Welcome to my podcast where I will analyze the environmental and social factors of the Saudi Arabian project “The Line.”

“The Line” is an infrastructure that is a part of a mega-city called NEOM, and it’s being built in the Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia. An article published in CNN titled “Future or Fantasy? Designs Unveiled for One-building City Stretching 106 Miles in Saudi Arabia” by Bantock and Brown claim that “The Line” will run entirely on renewable energy and there will be no roads, cars, or emissions. They also state that this infrastructure will have a high-speed rail that will connect sections of “The Line”, and it has been stated that it “forms part of a Saudi rebrand plan — Vision 2030 — to rival its Gulf neighbors such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi as travel hotspots and reshape the kingdom’s economy.”

As mentioned before, “The Line” is a part of a megacity that is being built by the company NEOM. They argue that “The Line” is a revolutionary infrastructure that puts humans first and provides an unprecedented urban living experience while preserving 95% of the surrounding environment.

This claim is about security because this infrastructure aims to conserve natural resources and depend on renewable energy while at the same time provide millions of people with homes and a zero-carbon environment. Saudi Arabia had signed the Paris Agreement and in their nationally determined contributions (NDC) they stated that they aim to reduce, avoid, and remove greenhouse gas emissions by 278 million tons of CO2 annually by 2030. They also mention how “The Line” will help them achieve this goal, and that the purpose of this infrastructure aligns with “vision 2030” which is a plan that outlines how Saudi Arabia will improve their economy and environment.

In this episode, I will examine Bantock’s and Brown’s claim by asking three questions about it. One, how are the role and meaning of the environment described and specified in this claim? Two, what is the role of human agency within this claim? And three, what is the spatial focus of this particular claim? I have gathered a collection of several resources to have a better understanding of this claim and the view of the world that it promotes.

To address the first question, this environment is described as a large infrastructure that is going to be 170 kilometers long and 200 meters wide and will require an estimated 500 billion dollars to build. It has also been identified as a “smart city” and it will be able to house 9 million people once construction has been completed. One main purpose of this project is to allow people to coexist with nature.

This environment will also be run by artificial intelligence, and it will even include smart towns, research centers, sports, and entertainment venues as well as tourist centers. “The Line” would be able to help Saudi Arabia reach the goals stated in its NDC and Vision 2030 plan. This building would be a part of their rebrand plan because it would allow for an increase in tourism. In 2020 Waheed and other colleagues found that using renewable energy has a beneficial relationship with tourism. Using renewable energy would allow there to be an increase in tourism and therefore benefit Saudi Arabia’s economy.

An environmental aspect of this claim that is not mentioned but is relevant is the potential effects that this infrastructure could have on surrounding lands. Even if the building itself fully relies on clean energy, it does not necessarily mean that it won’t have an impact on the environment surrounding it.

The article “Risks and Challenges Associated with NEOM Project in Saudi Arabia: A Marketing Perspective” by Areej Algumzi found that there were low-severity risks for the development of renewable energy sources but medium-severity risks for achieving sustainability on the surrounding lands and seas. Some factors that could have impacts on the region include increasing sea trade, having an artificial moon to light up the sky, and even having illuminating beach sands with artificial chemicals.

Also, since “The Line” is being built on the coast of the Red Sea, it could potentially become detrimental to aquatic ecosystems. Water conditions have already been compromised due to oil terminals, untreated sewage, light, and pollution. Some current issues that contribute to these problems are high concentrations of urban areas along the coastline, overfishing, and the lack of treatment plans. The article “Coral Reefs of the Red Sea – Challenges and Potential Solutions” by Fine and other colleagues suggests that to help with reef conditions, there needs to be a decrease in local disturbance and removal of all hazards. This application could be seen if local governments tried to implement the idea of quality over quantity when it comes to tourism.

When covering stories like these it’s also important to dive into the human agency aspects of these claims. For the second question, I’m going to discuss the company behind this project so that we can get a better understanding of who they are.

The company working on this project is NEOM and they are a closed joint-stock company that is fully owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. This company is based along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba. The Founder and Chairman of this company is Mohammed bin Salman, who also happens to be the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and the Chief Executive Officer is Nadhmi Al- Nasr. The idea of this mega-city was announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 at the Future Investment Initiative conference, and over time this project has been building an audience and sources of income through several investors.

“The Line” is only one region out of three that NEOM is working on, so they’ll have to receive help and support from other companies as well as investors to make this project a reality. Some current companies that have announced their support for this project include Aecom and Bechtel. These companies focus on construction and their role in this project will be to aid in building and constructing “The Line”. A Saudi Telecom Company has also stated that they would provide this infrastructure with a 5G network as well as help with other digital ambitions. There was also a 5-billion-dollar partnership with US companies Acwa Power and Air Products to provide the world’s largest green hydrogen and green ammonia plant. This is a massive project that will require a lot of work and the companies that I just mentioned are just some that have announced their support.

An important human agency aspect of this claim that is relevant but not mentioned is how Indigenous people were being displaced so that room could be made for NEOM’s projects. People from the Huwaitat tribe were forcefully evicted from their homes and harassed until they left. Some of them were even offered thousands of dollars to publicly disown Abdul Rahim and other members of the Tribe that had resisted eviction. Abdul Rahim is important to the story because he was killed by Saudi Arabian officials for refusing to leave his home, and some videos and photos showed authorities using excessive force on residents of the al-Khuraiba village.

The role of Mohammed bin Salman is also important to discuss because he is behind the initiation of this project and he has worked with investors and other countries to gain support and land for NEOM’s projects, particularly “The Line”. The prince seeks to improve relations with other counties and gain diplomatic recognition. There is also a plan to have a bridge crossing connecting NEOM and Egypt, but for this to happen, it would require negotiations with Israel. For NEOM to be successful, there are going to have to be a lot of political disputes and compromises.

Another interesting aspect of this story is going to be the change that might be seen regarding social norms in “The Line”. It has been mentioned that social norms in “The Line” are going to be different from the laws implicated in Saudi Arabia. Some examples of this include allowing alcohol in NEOM, even though it’s banned in Saudi Arabia. Another aspect of this would be the way people dress. To gain more popularity with other countries, NEOM might have to be ruled by common Western customs and not Islamic laws.

Something else that I found interesting was that the article “Towards Building Academic Entrepreneurial Programs at Saudi Universities: Predicting Future Jobs in Light of the NEOM Project” written by Ghadi Alghamdi and Azala Alghamdi examined possible jobs that could be developed in light of the NEOM project. In this study they recommend that Saudi Arabian universities should develop academic programs to meet the needs of the NEOM project in the disciplines of Mechatronics Engineering, Using Technology in Surgery, and Software Engineering.” They also mention that programs should reduce the acceptance of traditional academic programs that are not tailored to what is needed for the 2030 Vision initiatives and the NEOM projects. This is important to think about because If Saudi Arabian universities were to implement their recommendations, then it would alter what college students are allowed and able to study.

For the third question of this geopolitical analysis, I’m going to be discussing the spatial focus of this claim. The spatial aspect of this story is important because this building is going to be covering a lot of land. This building is going to be a very huge infrastructure that’s located in the province of Tabuk in north-west Saudi Arabia. As mentioned before, “The Line” will be 170 kilometers long and 200 meters wide. It’s located 25 kilometers north of a town named Duba. “The Line” will also connect with the Red Sea coastline and mountains found on the north-east side of Saudi Arabia. Knowing the location of this infrastructure is important because its placement could have consequences on the surrounding environment.

One part of the spatial focus of this story that is relevant but not included in the claim is how the initiation of the construction of NEOM has led to the displacement of Indigenous communities. At least 20,000 members of the Huwaitat tribe were forced to leave their homes and move somewhere else.

Another aspect of this story that is not being told is where the employees for this infrastructure will be coming from. NEOM has mentioned that this infrastructure would be able to generate about 380,000 jobs for civilians. This could potentially cause a lot of people to have to relocate to work in or on “The Line.”

It’s also important to realize that if “The Line” is successful, it could change the way buildings are built around the world. Buildings built on renewable energy could become the new norm, and this would impact future developments forever.

NEOM is also placed at the intersection of Asia, Europe, and Africa. This means that NEOM is just a couple of hours away from about 70% of the global population. It’s strategically located along one of the busiest economic areas in the world, and it could be one reason why this project was done in Saudi Arabia.

Analyzing the claim for this podcast has made me realize the amount of information that can be found behind projects like these. There is depth to massive projects and complex issues involving human and environmental concepts. I’ve also been considering whether the injustices involving the displacement of Indigenous civilians trump the possibility of an infrastructure that’s meant to offer new technologies and opportunities. Thousands of people were evicted and forced to move from their homes, meaning that this project was being built on land that was taken from someone. There are also a lot of technological and economic barriers surrounding this project. Most of the technology has not been built yet, and this could cause issues with NEOM meeting its deadlines.

If this project were to be successful, it would revolutionize the way other countries build new infrastructures and choose to implement ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This project could open doors for new technology as well as advancements toward climate change, but it could also initiate new problems that we have never faced before. This project leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and most of the information surrounding this project was difficult to find. Learning about this topic has taught me to look beyond the hopeful and eco-friendly vocabulary and find more information about what’s truly happening. Things are not always what they seem, and projects like these may be hiding ugly truths about how or why they began.

[Closing music]


Thank you so much for listening. Music and sound effects for the podcast Analyzing the Environmental and Social Factors of the Saudi Arabian Project “The Line,” used the following music and sound effects from the following site, Freesound: “Constellation – Upbeat Spacey Song” by ispeakwaves is licensed under CC BY 4.0, “city calm NL EU 2021 Pack1 » Suburb Sunday 7AM 210228_0261.wav” by klankbeeld is licensed under CC BY 4.0, “Fireplace Burning” by AugustSandberg is in the Public Domain, CC0, “210523_1598_FR_StrongWind.wav” by kevp888 is licensed under CC BY 4.0



“city calm NL EU 2021 Pack1 » Suburb Sunday 7AM 210228_0261.wav” by klankbeeld is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“Constellation – Upbeat Spacey Song” by ispeakwaves is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“Fireplace Burning” by AugustSandberg is in the Public Domain, CC0

“210523_1598_FR_StrongWind.wav” by kevp888 is licensed under CC BY 4.0


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