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The gradual rise of King Abdullah Economic City

A small dredger dips lethargically into the shimmering Red Sea. The future presence of a world-class container port here – bringing seagoing vessels deep into the flat, windy desert nearby – looks improbable. Indeed, four years into the construction of what is supposed to be a purpose-built metropolis, King Abdullah Economic City looks as hubristic as ever. This $27 billion project, sponsored by an affiliate of Dubai developer Emaar, has always had its doubters. That was before the collapse of the off-plan sales model in property development in the Middle East.

By the time it is completed in 2025, about 2 million people are supposed to inhabit the new city, about an hour’s drive north of Jeddah. The aim is for the city to be the size of Washington DC.

A handful of office and apartment blocks have already been built, but only in a tiny corner – perhaps 1% of the city. According to a source involved in the project, fewer than 50 families have moved in, including some employees of the city itself. The office blocks are used by Emaar Economic City, the overall developer, and by the Saudi investment promotion agency, Sagia, which is supervising the scheme.

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