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UK told to pile pressure on Saudi Arabia over incredible new £430bn city

Neom’s The Line drew the world’s attention after the ambitious £430bn futuristic city was first announced in 2021. However, a new disturbing report last week claimed that Saudi security forces had killed villagers who had refused to leave their land to make way for the mega infrastructure eco-city project.

Col Rabih Alenezi, an ex-intelligence officer who went into exile in the UK last year, told the BBC that villagers from the Huwaitat tribe, who have been in the area for generations, are vehemently protesting the construction plan. He said that one man in the village was shot by Saudi forces after he refused to accept an eviction order. More than 6,000 people have been moved for the project so far.

A UK delegation to Saudi Arabia – where the desert city is being built – has been accused of “turning a blind eye to a catalogue of Saudi abuses on the ground”. Dozens of companies, including some British firms, are involved in the construction process.

This comes as the UK and Saudi Arabia host a major trade exposition together in the capital Riyadh this week.

The ‘Great Futures’ launch event, taking place today and tomorrow, claims to “bring to life the sheer scale of opportunities for UK business in Saudi Arabia”. It also kickstarts a year-long partnership promoting trade, tourism, and education between the two countries.

Speakers at the event include footballer Rio Ferdinand, former minister Jo Johnson and a British Airways executive.

Neom is one of the main ‘giga-projects’ promoted as a vital business opportunity for UK firms, while The Line has been promoted heavily in the marketing of the trade event.

Several human rights groups have come forward to demand the UK use its leverage to stop the Saudi abuses.

Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, blasted the expo: “The reality behind such futuristic projects is the brutal repression of citizens and residents.”

Dana Ahmed, Amnesty International’s Middle East Researcher, added: “Any business that knowingly contributes to human rights harms is in clear violation of international law.”

ALQST, a UK-based human rights group, said it appears that the UK is “increasingly willing to turn a blind eye to the catalogue of Saudi abuses on the ground”.

Josh Cooper, deputy director of the organisation, said: “Imagine if companies working on Neom made their involvement conditional on the release of local residents arrested for protesting forced eviction. Or if university chancellors withheld Saudi partnerships until detained University of Leeds PhD student Salma al-Shehab was freed? Such steps would have a positive bearing.”

Meanwhile, The Line project itself has hit a stumbling block after Saudi Arabia was forced to downsize its plans for the linear city. A Saudi official told Bloomberg in April that the project would be scaled back to 2.4 kilometers, with a reduced capacity of less than 300,000 residents. It had originally planned to cover a stretch of 170 kilometers of coastal desert and house 1.5 million people.

The UK responded to the human rights claims by insisting it regularly raises human rights concerns with Saudi authorities “where necessary”.

A spokesperson for the UK government said: “The United Kingdom has vital national security and economic interests in maintaining and developing our relationship with Saudi Arabia but no aspect of our relationship prevents us from speaking frankly about human rights. UK ministers regularly raise human rights concerns with the Saudi authorities where necessary.”


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