As guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia might be a conservative country, but the importance of development is not lost on it.
In 2012, Saudi Arabia was the biggest beneficiary of an estimated $40 billion of foreign direct investment in the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, according to a 2013 report by the Oxford Business Group, citing industry figures. The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
With a gross domestic product of more than $576.8 billion, Saudi Arabia has also become the largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa, ranking as one of the best places to do business in the World Bank’s regular survey.
After King Abdullah’s death in late January, his successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz, has vowed to maintain stability throughout the country while pursuing the same vision to modernize it.
His time as governor of Riyadh Province lends weight to his words. For five decades, he oversaw the transformation of the capital from a town to a shiny metropolis. The latest example of his ambitions is the construction of a massive public transit network in Riyadh. Government officials describe it as the world’s largest public transport system under development. Among the builders is Salini Impregilo.
Known as the Riyadh Public Transport Project, or RPTP, it is one of the many initiatives adopted by the government to deal with the myriad of challenges facing the country.
The High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh is the organization responsible for the planning and development of the city of Riyadh, in all economic, social, cultural, architectural and environmental aspects. Its executive branch is the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA).
Saudi Arabia’s population is growing fast, with 70% of the population being below the age of 34, according to 2011 figures, which is adding even more pressure on the state to meet social and economic needs.
One of its responses to these challenges has been to invest in public infrastructure, such as the Riyadh public transit. At a cost of more than $20 billion, it will have six subway lines, designated by different colours, crisscrossing the city for a combined 176 kilometres.
It will employ some 50,000 people up until its completion at the end of 2018.
In addition to creating jobs, the project will improve the quality of life of the city’s residents by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. It will also make it easier for people of modest means to move about the city, as well as women because they are not allowed to drive cars.