In the chat group, a friend threw out a news on July 3 to the effect that a light rail railway in Egypt built by a Chinese company was put into trial operation, which was the first electrified light rail railway in Egypt and Africa. The friend asked in surprise: “Before this, there was no electrified railway in Egypt? Shouldn’t it be!” I replied, “Of course not.”
Over the past few years, I have been popularizing science to my friends: the Greater Middle East, Or in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), railways are very underdeveloped. Egypt finally has a railway system, but it’s developing slowly, while in many other countries, there are no railways at all. Friends will be stunned for a while, suspecting that they heard it wrong, and then instinctively ask: “Why?” “Those oil-producing countries will have no railways? Aren’t they rich?”
200 years after the invention of railways, many countries in the world still do not have railways, and the reasons are hard to describe.
200 years after the invention of the railway, many countries in the world, including those in the rich Middle East oil-producing countries, still do not have railways. The reason is hard to describe, but the hard truth is. Is it that people in the Middle East don’t care about railways and love road culture as much as Americans do? of course not. On April 15, 2022, the weekend special issue of the UAE “Nation” published a special report “Dawn of the Golden Age of Gulf Railway Travel”, which introduced the railway dream of the countries around the Persian Gulf, which are basically oil-producing countries. , the “big family” in the eyes of the Chinese. The article points out that in modern history, the railway has always been the lifeline of the industry, and even in the aviation age, the role of the railway is still irreplaceable. Middle Easterners understand the importance of railways very well.
At the beginning of the report, three important examples were cited, namely the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Indian Railway built by the British Empire, and the Australian railway system. However, the first example is so worded: “The Siberian Railway, which stretches for 9,300 kilometers, connects Europe and China, and crosses the Russian Arctic…” It does not mention that it was built by Tsarist Russia! At present, for religious, historical and practical reasons, the Greater Middle East has completely denied Russia, and it is also surprising that it can achieve such an excessive level. The article then states: “However, much of the Middle East is still severely lacking in this service. Nearly two decades ago, the six GCC countries set out to remedy that with plans to link neighbouring countries by rail.” The plan has been delayed, and currently, only the UAE and Saudi Arabia are building their own rail networks.
Saudi Arabia built its first railway line as early as 1951, and then it lost momentum. One of the reasons is that the United States wants Saudi Arabia to build highways and enter the era of automobiles. It was not until 2006 that Saudi Arabia restarted railway construction. The Mecca-Medina high-speed electrified railway, which was built by Chinese companies, was completed in 2018 and was the first electrified railway in the Arabian Peninsula and the entire Middle East. The United Arab Emirates only started building the railway in 2009. The railway line connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi was completed in March this year, but it has not yet started operation.
In the Greater Middle East, not only railways, but other infrastructures are also completely backward, and most countries lack industry and modern agriculture. The world is changing with each passing day, but this region has always lingered painfully outside of modernization. Some insightful people turned their attention to China. In 2009, Jordanian scholar Samir Ahmed, director of the Cultural Bureau of Amman, published the book “Following Civilization: The Rise of China and the Future of Arabia”, identifying China. It is a “developed civilized country” and advocates that the Arab world should strive to form a “community of interests” and “civilization follower” relationship with China. After the book was published, it was highly valued by compatriots. In fact, that book is not alone, and similar ideas have flourished in the Greater Middle East over the years. In 2013, after China proposed the “Belt and Road” initiative, people in the Middle East were even more excited, as if “the whole village has hope”. In the understanding of Middle Eastern people, in order to connect Asia, Africa and Latin America with Europe, China will build railways, highways, ports, hydropower facilities, industrial parks, etc. around the world, completing the most ambitious project in human history. They believe that the energy and geographical location of the Middle East are very important. Therefore, China should focus on the construction of the “Belt and Road” first in their region.
Only after understanding the plight of the Middle East can we understand why they welcome the “Belt and Road” initiative. This is a part of “world affairs”. As ordinary people, we should also pay attention.