Crossing The Line: Has Saudi Arabia’s Eco City Utopia Turned Into a Dystopian Nightmare?

May 06, 2024

The Line in Saudi Arabia is one of the most ambitious building projects—originally pitched as an environmental eco-city utopia by concept developers Morphosis in the US, it has since fallen into some controversy and recent events suggest it has become more of a dystopian or Orwellian vision of the future, rather than the futuristic utopia that was first envisioned.

What is The Line?

The Line is set up like a self-contained environmental city that is car-free, connected with high-speed rail, and non-reliant on fossil fuels, using 100% renewable energy—with living spaces, and commercial and recreational zones layered vertically within the mirrored walls of the structure. 

The structure is essentially two huge parallel skyscrapers around 500 metres tall—taller than both the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower—giving The Line the appearance of a large mirror-surfaced block that will extend for over 170 km when the project is complete, although there has been some scaling back on these ambitious targets.

To put it into perspective, the length of the entire country of Luxembourg is only 82 km, so this construction would be more than double the length of this nation-state at its fully completed stage.

As well as the US-based Morphosis, Neom has partnered with architects such as Cook Haffner Architecture Platform, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, HOK, LAVA, and OMA.

What are the Recent Controversial Issues Surrounding the Development of The Line?

Aside from the potential ecological ramifications of building one large structure across a terrain that is larger than some small countries, there have been worrying stories surrounding the methods employed by the government forces in their attempts to clear the land to make way for the development.

Some 6,000 people have been moved with whole villages being demolished along with all the homes, schools and hospitals within them. Those who refused to leave have been shot, imprisoned and sentenced to death.

How do we Know About the Events in Saudi Arabia and Can the Story be Verified?

Of course, news stories that are harmful to the Crown Prince and the government forces in Saudi Arabia are a rare occurrence, with strict controls in place and access to foreign journalists limited. As with many autocratic or authoritarian regimes, the citizens will get most of their information from heavily censored state-run media.

The only reason this information has surfaced is because one of the government agents managed to escape from Saudi Arabia and is prepared to tell his story.

Former Intelligence Agent Goes on the Run 

Colonel Alenezi, an intelligence agent with the Saudi Government, was tasked with clearing out villages ahead of the planned construction. Not liking what he was hearing from his superiors, and fearing he would be asked to harm innocent civilians, he called in sick with a fake medical problem and went AWOL, escaping to the UK and telling his story to the media.

The former intelligence agent said that his orders advised that the area contained “many rebels”, and “whoever resisted the eviction should be killed”. The use of lethal force was licenced for anybody who refused to leave their home.

Although the former intelligence agent managed to dodge the mission with his invented medical problem, the mission still went ahead as planned—with one villager being killed who refused to leave his home and protested the development, and 47 being arrested, 5 of whom were placed on death row and most of which are being prosecuted on terror charges.

Colonel Alenezi was offered $5 million to attend a meeting at London's Saudi embassy but refused, possibly fearing an incident similar to the events with Jamal Kashoggi, the US journalist who was reportedly murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

How Legitimate is the Source of this Story?

The BBC, who initially heard the testimony from Alanezi, say that his story cannot be independently verified. Without getting the information from the Crown Prince or Neom, this would be difficult and both have refused to comment.

However, the BBC, to be fair to their reporting, did cast around somewhat and got in touch with a source “familiar with the workings of Saudi intelligence”—they were able to confirm that the clearance order and how it was communicated, along with what was said, etc. was in line with the way they normally do business and that the Colonel’s level of seniority would be typical for a mission of this kind. 

End of The Line?

Several firms have pulled out of the project, with the Chief Executives voicing their concerns over the handling of the Neom project. One US-based senior executive left another Neom project to build a ski resort after hearing about what had happened and not getting sufficient answers.

A British desalination company also pulled out of an £80 million project for The Line, with their Chief Executive saying, “It might be good for some high-tech people in the area but what about the rest?” 

Scaling Down

Reports suggest that the scope and timeframes of the project have been scaled back, possibly due to costs over running. It is now expected that The Line will only house 300,000 people by 2030 as opposed to the 1.5 million that was originally intended. Also, the length of the construction has been shortened, with only 2.4 km expected by 2030 out of the total planned 170 km (which is roughly the distance from Bristol to London).

Are UK Construction Firms and Other Western Businesses at Risk When Working on Projects Connected With Neom’s The Line in Saudi Arabia?

The Line project in Saudi Arabia was built as a futuristic eco-city, with no fossil fuels being used, or any cars used for transport and relying entirely on renewable energy throughout the entirety of the development.

However, the reality of the situation seems to be more in line with a dystopian, Orwellian vision of the future with authoritarian governments killing residents and imprisoning them on false charges to make way for their futuristic developments to serve the rich and elite.

So are UK companies who work on projects connected with The Line development in Saudi Arabia at risk from similar reprisals from the Government?

Typically, this would not be the case, despite the more recent sinister developments.

Normally it would be the average citizens and those from poor backgrounds living in surrounding villages and local tribes who had more to fear from the oppression and the tough penalties imposed on them.

As a general rule, the Saudis would roll out the red carpet for visiting Western contractors and firms working with them on developments such as Neom’s projects. There is really nothing to gain for the Saudi Government by mistreating foreign workers or organisations, provided they are on the side of the development and the Crown Prince.

For any party that runs counter to their aims, however, it is a different story, with several firms already pulling out of the project based on their concerns.

It seems to suggest from the $5 million offered for the meeting in the embassy that they intended to kill the former colonel on British soil, or potentially try to kidnap him and have him tried in Saudi Arabia.

The likelihood of a former intelligent agent gone AWOL being paid $5 million simply to attend a meeting seems relatively low, and while there's no specific evidence of any crime it can be inferred that there was some more sinister purpose behind this and the $5 million was never going to reach the hands of the former intelligence agent Colonel Alenezi.

Public Relations Implications for UK Construction Firms

Apart from the physical security concerns, there is a risk of reputational damage for the UK-based organisations who are involved with projects overseas that are morally questionable or may face a future backlash.

Several firms have already pulled out of the deal and the overall ethos of the project has certainly been brought into question with one CEO saying that “the local tribes should be valued for their knowledge of the area and should be useful for the developers and not have their homes and villages cleared out against their will.”

Our Best Version of the Future?

Large-scale ambitious construction projects should have the ordinary citizens at the forefront of any planning.

For those residents who have been cleared out to make way for the project, they will never get to see the inside of The Line—that much you can more or less guarantee.

The lavish environment within the confines of those mirrored walls will be reserved for the rich and famous, and for visiting dignitaries or others who need to be impressed for diplomatic or corporate reasons.

Meanwhile, the displaced citizens will be confined to an existence of having their own uprooted and impoverished lifestyle reflected back at them while they wonder what goes on beyond the giant wall where their homes once stood.

Is this really the vision of the future that we should all aspire to?

Ethically Sourced Technology for Architecture and Construction Industries | Lyon Tech

At Lyon Tech, we provide technology solutions for architecture engineering and construction firms that are ethically sourced and tightly monitored and scrutinised according to our strict guidelines.

At Lyon Tech, our technology may be state of the art, but our values are simple.

We believe in supporting and developing local communities and keeping the residents at the heart of the planning process, with high-tech systems being deployed to the benefit of the population through effective and sustainable construction methods.

Our UK-based staff are a close-knit team of highly trained professionals and their sole motivation is the success and admiration of our architecture and construction clients who have transformed their businesses.

When you contact our support team for help, you will be put straight through to a qualified IT specialist based in the UK, with years of experience at handling all manners of IT related issues frequently faced by construction and architecture-based organisations.

This means that construction firms who partner with Lyon Tech get the reassurance that every component of their business is ethically sourced and not reliant on offshore call centres and remote workers in overseas territories where there is little oversight for the treatment of staff, pay and conditions for the workers.

At Lyon Tech, we provide architecture and construction firms with 

  • Fully remote working 

  • Cloud-based data storage

  • Cloud-based computational power for high-end applications, graphics, and designs

  • Desktop as a service

  • Cybersecurity monitoring and defence solutions

  • VoIP communications

  • Disaster recovery

  • Video conferencing

  • On-site support

  • IT governance 

Contact Lyon Tech

If you are looking to expand the capabilities of your architecture or construction business through the use of state-of-the-art technology, contact our expert advisors today.

We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have and can give you a full audit of your current setup and advise which solutions would be most suitable for your business needs.

For example, if you already have a robust and secure defensive posture against cyber threats, then you may not require this component, with your business being more suited to the VoIP communications and IT support packages we offer.

All of our services are modular, meaning our customers can bolt on additional services as and when the need arises, selecting a bespoke IT solutions package that caters to the specific needs of their individual business.

If you are looking to shift towards a remote working environment, set up cloud infrastructure, or improve the processes of your construction business, but are unsure about the technology involved and whether or not it would be cost-effective, our trained analysts can give you a clear run-down of all the options in a language that is simple to understand and free from technical jargon.

Get in touch with our friendly team today and we can discuss your range of options for expanding and improving your construction business.