A vital waterway: Why the Red Sea matters to Saudi Arabia

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Updated 15 December 2018
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A vital waterway: Why the Red Sea matters to Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Project is an ultra-luxury destination that brings together a beautiful landscape, adventure and cultural heritage. The project’s plan is to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map, create investment opportunities for the local private sector and develop the Kingdom’s tourism industry while preserving the nation’s cultural and environmental heritage.

In July of 2017, the Red Sea project was launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, PIF deputy chairman. The luxury and sustainable international tourist destination on the west coast of the Kingdom is one of three major PIF projects. 

As part of the domestic investment strategy, PIF created three Saudi giga projects, one of which is the Red Sea Project. Located between the cities of Umluj and al-Wajh, the project covers an area of 34,000 sq km, about 500 km north of Jeddah and at the crossroads of the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa.

A team from the Red Sea Development Company led by John Pagano, its CEO, delivered a visual presentation on the master plan of the Red Sea Project at AQRA Palace in Riyadh with a detailed brief about its economic and development objectives to become a global destination in the luxury tourism sector.

Research published by Abu Dhabi-based ADCB this week highlighted the importance of developing Red Sea tourism for the non-oil economy in the Kingdom.

“New mega projects to develop tourism have been announced this year, including the ulta-luxurious Amaala tourist resort on the Red Sea and the Wadi Al-Disah project, which will extend across several archaeological sites,” said ADCB in its “Saudi Arabia: Weather watching as the winds change” report. “These projects should help to diversify the tourism mix in the country.”

“The PIF is expected to kick-start many of these projects as an anchor and seed investor with international and private sector partners likely to be sought once momentum builds.”

“The destination will provide a unique sense of place for visitors and offer nature lovers, adventurer, cultural explorers and guests looking to escape and rejuvenate, a wide range of exclusive experiences, combining luxury, tranquility, adventure and beautiful landscapes,” said Pagano during the initiation of the project in 2017. 

The project’s progress report comes in after an agreement with six countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to establish an entity of cooperation. Representatives from Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Jordan gathered in Riyadh to discuss the initiative.

“This new maritime alliance is coming at a critical time in the history of the relations between the Arabian Peninsula and all lands west of the Red Sea area including the Gulf of Aden,” said Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics in Washington DC.

“These straits, gulfs, and ports around the Red Sea region are now filled with an increasing number of bases from land to sea to protect maritime shipping but also to safeguard littoral coast lines. The geopolitical picture is beginning to show the growing importance of the Red Sea and surrounding environs in order to safeguard transit zones and that a regional grouping is necessary.  

“Coastal development projects that boost not only the Saudi economy but other regional countries as well are important to the development of the Red Sea. Red Sea tourism projects are increasing and it is important to guarantee the safety and security of these commercial, water-front zones in a changing security environment. Ultimately, NEOM is also at the center of this effort given its trans-border plans.” 

“Importantly, the creation of the maritime zone is to continue to build strong connections with the Horn of Africa states that guarantees a coordinating mechanism as ports and economic projects expand. A key point is helping land-locked Ethiopia further develop its links to blue waters. Only through such an organization can deconfliction issues be resolved as all countries in the region work more closely together.”

The Red Sea Project destination will be developed around several geographical treasures: 200km of coastline; over 50 untouched, pristine islands with stunning coral reefs; historical sites; dormant volcanoes and nature reserves. 

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2022, will include up to 3,000 hotel rooms, an airport to serve the destination, and yacht marinas, as well as residential properties and recreational facilities. 

By completion of all stages of the project, there will be 22 developed islands of more than 90 islands, and 70,000 jobs created. The project will play a significant role in driving economic diversification in Saudi Arabia by attracting nearly 1 million visitors every year, and achieving a contribution of SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s GDP.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, an international affairs scholar based in Riyadh, said: “Among Saudi Arabia’s objectives is to combine all efforts and ensure joint efforts are made to secure navigation in the Red Sea, address threats that may affect its security and stability, and prevent other states, such as Iran, from using the terrorist groups in these countries. 

“The difference between Saudi Arabia and Iran is that Iran uses those terrorist militias against these countries and against the region’s security while Saudi Arabia does not use this scheme. The Kingdom aims to deal with states that have security and stability problems to make them realize the importance of security and stability in their countries, therefore motivating joint action in clearing the region of any threat that harms the security of the Red Sea. This way, all parties will benefit from future projects in which everyone is welcome to participate. 

“Thus, it is important that everyone partners in securing the Red Sea so that common goals are achieved quickly and efficiently, and then everyone can benefit from achieving these goals in investment and economic fields that serve all parties.”


Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki at a press briefing. (SPA file photo)
Updated 54 min 27 sec ago
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Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

  • Houthis want to disturb peace, says coalition spokesman
  • Stockholm peace agreement under strain

RIYADH: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government is committed to protecting regional and global security, a spokesman said Monday.

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki was asked at a press briefing about Houthi militias threatening to target the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“This is their way to disturb peace,” Al-Maliki replied. “Previously the Houthis targeted Riyadh with a ballistic missile, violating all international laws by attacking a city that has more than 8 million civilians. We take all precautions to protect civilians and vital areas. The coalition works to protect regional and international security.”

Al-Maliki said Houthis had targeted Saudi border towns several times, the most recent incident taking place in Abha last Friday.

But the Saudi Royal Air Defense Force had shot down a drone that was targeting civilians, he added.

He said four Saudi nationals and an Indian expatriate were injured in the attack because of falling debris.

The drone wreckage showed the characteristics and specifications of Iranian manufacturing, he said, which proved Iran was continuing to smuggle arms to the militias.

He warned the Houthis to refrain from targeting civilians because the coalition, in line with international humanitarian law, had every right to counter such threats.

He said the coalition was making efforts to neutralize ballistic missiles and dismantle their capabilities, as the coalition’s joint command would not allow the militia to possess weapons that threatened civilian lives and peace.

Al-Maliki reiterated that the Houthis were targeting Yemeni civilians and continued to violate international laws. 

He also urged Yemenis to try their best to prevent children from being captured by Houthis, who were using them as human shields and child soldiers.

His comments came as the UN tried to salvage a peace deal that was seen as crucial for ending the country’s four-year war.

The Stockholm Agreement was signed by the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives last December.

The main points of the agreement were a prisoner exchange, steps toward a cease-fire in the city of Taiz, and a cease-fire agreement in the city of Hodeidah and its port, as well as ports in Salif and Ras Issa.

Militants triggered the conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and attempted to occupy large parts of the country. An Arab coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognized government in March 2015.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that President Donald Trump’s administration opposed curbs on American assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

“The way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight, but by giving the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat the Iranian-backed rebels and ensure a just peace,” Pompeo said at a news conference in Washington.