"The Line" is a 170 kilometer-long city on the Red Sea in northwestern Saudi Arabia that is currently being built from the ground up in the desert. Picture this: you land from your flight, walk through the airport undisturbed, then jump on a high-speed underground transit line that within less than 20 minutes takes you to the city center. As you hop off, forget about pulling your phone out to search your way from the station to the hotel: a small autonomous shuttle is awaiting you at the exit, and it already knows where you're going. After a short ride – nothing here is further than a few hundred meters away – through a city that has traded cars and roads for open piazzas and luxuriant green spaces, the shuttle drops you off at your hotel. Don't bother checking in; a facial recognition system has already pinned you down. You walk directly to your room, press your fingertips next to the handle to authenticate, and sigh comfortably as the doors open.
The aircraft carrier Nimitz is finally going home. The Pentagon last month ordered the warship to remain in the Middle East because of Iranian threats against President Donald J. Trump and other American officials, just three days after announcing the ship was returning home as a signal to de-escalate rising tensions with Tehran. With those immediate tensions seeming to ease a bit, and President Biden looking to renew discussions with Iran on the 2015 nuclear accord that Mr. Trump withdrew from, three Defense Department officials said on Monday that the Nimitz and its 5,000-member crew were ordered on Sunday to return to the ship's home port of Bremerton, Wash., after a longer-than-usual 10-month deployment. The Pentagon for weeks had been engaged in a muscle-flexing strategy aimed at deterring Iran and its Shia proxies in Iraq from attacking American personnel in the Persian Gulf to avenge the death of Maj. General Suleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed in an American drone strike in January 2020.
The MENA region is in the middle of a digital transformation, which 2020 and COVID-19 has only accelerated. I asked five experts to share the tech trends they see influencing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) this year, with digital payments, greater investment in AI and mobile, coupled with the need for greater focus on cybersecurity, all getting a mention. Among the things to look out for on the Middle East tech scene in 2021 is the Expo 2020 event, which is due to take place in Dubai in the UAE for six months starting from October says Matthew Reed, practice leader, Middle East and Africa & Asia Pacific, at Omdia. "The event, which was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will still be known as Expo 2020, is expected to showcase advanced technologies and applications including autonomous vehicles, smart city services, and space exploration, with the latter based on the UAE's launch of an unmanned spacecraft to Mars in July 2020. "Saudi Arabia also has futuristic plans and in early January it unveiled the outlines of a major new city project, The Line, a 170-kilometre urban development that will be entirely powered by renewable energy and will be "hyper-connected though a digital framework incorporating artificial intelligence and robotics, according to the launch website. "The Saudi authorities are also increasingly keen to encourage investment and growth in the country's non-oil business sector, and that is likely to accelerate efforts to upgrade connectivity and technology services for enterprises over the year ahead." The fintech landscape in MENA is rapidly evolving from a focus on digital payments to expanding access to finance, both consumer and SME lending, says Ayman Ismail, Jameel chair of entrepreneurship, The American University in Cairo. "The past three years were mostly about establishing infrastructure for digital payments.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is promising to build a network of smart cities that won't have any cars or roads. It's called The Line, due to its arrangement of "hyper-connected future communities," and will form part of NEOM, a $500 billion project announced in October 2017. According to the prince, the development will offer "ultra-high-speed transit," autonomous vehicles and an urban layout that ensures basic facilities, such as schools and medical clinics, are never more than a five-minute walk away. "It is expected no journey will be longer than 20 minutes," the project's organizers claimed in a press release today. One million people are supposed to live inside The Line.
The Pentagon has abruptly sent the aircraft carrier Nimitz home from the Middle East and Africa over the objections of top military advisers, marking a reversal of a weekslong muscle-flexing strategy aimed at deterring Iran from attacking American troops and diplomats in the Persian Gulf. Officials said on Friday that the acting defense secretary, Christopher C. Miller, had ordered the redeployment of the ship in part as a "de-escalatory" signal to Tehran to avoid stumbling into a crisis in President Trump's waning days in office. American intelligence reports indicate that Iran and its proxies may be preparing a strike as early as this weekend to avenge the death of Maj. Senior Pentagon officials said that Mr. Miller assessed that dispatching the Nimitz now, before the first anniversary this Sunday of General Suleimani's death in an American drone strike in Iraq, could remove what Iranian hard-liners see as a provocation that justifies their threats against American military targets. Some analysts said the return of the Nimitz to its home port of Bremerton, Wash., was a welcome reduction in tensions between the two countries.
Two American B-52 bombers flew another show-of-force mission in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, a week after President Trump warned Iran that he would hold it accountable "if one American is killed" in rocket attacks in Iraq that the administration and military officials blamed on Tehran. The warplanes' 36-hour round-trip mission from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota was the third time in six weeks that Air Force bombers had conducted long-range flights about 60 miles off the Iranian coast, moves that military officials said were intended to deter Iran from attacking American troops in the region. The United States periodically conducts such quick demonstration missions to the Middle East and Asia to showcase American air power to allies and adversaries. But tensions have been rising in advance of the Jan. 3 anniversary of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iraqi leader of an Iranian-backed militia -- deaths that Iranian leaders repeatedly insist they have not yet avenged.
Dubai/Washington – An American nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine traversed the strategically vital waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula on Monday, the U.S. Navy said, in a rare announcement that comes amid rising tensions with Iran. The Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, accompanied by two other warships, passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passageway through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies travel. The unusual transit in the Persian Gulf's shallow waters, aimed at underscoring American military might in the region, follows the killing last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic's disbanded military nuclear program. It also comes some two weeks before the anniversary of the American drone strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq that killed top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. Iran has promised to seek revenge for both killings. The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine's presence in Mideast waterways signals the U.S. Navy's "commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities," the Navy said, demonstrating its readiness "to defend against any threat at any time."
Successive lockdowns imposed across the globe and travel restrictions accelerated digital transformation at workplaces and for essential services. Unable to step out, people turned to online portals and apps for most tasks including shopping, learning and banking. Healthcare gained importance, driving more people to get insurance and firms also embraced digitisation to serve consumers, globally and in the Middle East. But interacting with consumers and verifying claims online, in order to ensure contactless service, has its challenges when cybercrime is surging as quickly as the tech-savvy economy. Saudi Arabia's cooperative insurer Tawuniya also found itself vulnerable, at a time when 95% firms in the kingdom were reportedly targeted by cybercrooks.
RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) signed an agreement with the American multinational computer company Dell Technologies, combining the two organizations' expertise in emerging technologies to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the Kingdom. As Saudi Arabia aims to diversify its economy away from oil under Saudi Vision 2030, it is stepping up efforts to drive innovation and the use of AI. As part of this agreement, SDAIA will be provided with consulting services that will help them leverage solutions within AI, cloud, data analytics and enterprise storage, as part of the Kingdom's digital transformation. "This strategic collaboration will also witness an exchange of industry best practices and expertise needed to develop integrated projects that will serve the needs of public sector entities' technology across Saudi Arabia," SDAIA and Dell said in a joint statement. The agreement was signed last week during GITEX Technology Week 2020 in Dubai between Dr. Esam Al-Wagait, director of Saudi Arabia's National Information Center (NIC), and Mohammed Amin, senior vice president of Dell's Middle East wing.