With its mega-city and technology zone project , the Saudis are seeking to consolidate an economic alternative to oil.
NEOM, an acronym for New Future, is the name of the new economic-technological city and area , with an area three times the size of Cyprus, which Saudi Arabia is promoting in the north-west of the country, opposite the Sinai Peninsula. In addition to seeking alternatives to oil, with NEOM the Saudis aim to rival the urban innovations of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. The project also involves shifting Saudi interest from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and closer neighbourhoods with Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
▲ The appearance of the future NEOM megacity, from agreement with the vision of its promoters [NEOM Project].
article / Sebastián Bruzzone Martínez
Middle Eastern states are seeking to diversify their revenues and avoid potential collapse of their economies in order to counteract the end-of-oil crisis expected in the mid-21st century. Arabs' preferred sectors are renewable energy, luxury tourism, modern infrastructure and technology. Governments in the region have found ways to unify these four sectors, and Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, seems to want to position itself at the forefront of the Arab technology degree program .
While the world looks towards Sillicon Valley in California, Shenzhen in China or Bangalore in India, the Saudi government has begun preparations for the creation of its first independent economic and technological zone: NEOM (short for the Arabic term Neo-Mustaqbal, New Future). The project was until recently headed by Klaus Kleinfeld, former CEO of Siemens AG, who has been replaced by Nadhmi Al Nasr as CEO of NEOM since his appointment as an advisor to the Saudi Crown.
On 24 October 2017, at the Future Investment Initiative lecture in Riyadh, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the $500 billionproject , part of the Saudi Vision 2030 policy programme. average The territory where NEOM will be located is in the border area between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, on the shores of the Red Sea, through which almost ten percent of world trade flows, has a temperature 10ºC lower than that of the rest of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation committee , and is located less than eight hours' flight from 70% of the world's population, so it could become a major passenger transport hub.
As announced by the Saudi government, NEOM will be a special economic city, with its own civil and tax laws and Western social customs, covering 26,500 square kilometres (the size of Cyprus multiplied by three). The main objectives are to attract foreign investment from multinational companies, diversify the oil-dependent Saudi Economics , create a free market space and home to millionaires, "a land for free and stress-free people; a start-up the size of a country: a blank sheet of paper on which to write the new era of human progress", says a promotional video on project. All this under the slogan: "The world's most ambitious project: an entire new land, purpose-built for a new way of living". According to the website and official accounts of project, the 16 sectors of energy, mobility, water, biotechnology, food, manufacturing, communication, entertainment and fashion, technology, tourism, sport, services, health and wellness, Education, and livability will generate 100 billion dollars a year.
Thanks to a report published by The Wall Street Journal and prepared by the consulting firms Oliver Wyman, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co., which, according to them, had access to more than 2,300 confidential planning documents, some of the ambitions and luxuries that the futuristic city will have have have have come to light. These include flying cars, holograms, a Jurassic Park-style robot dinosaur theme park and edition Genetics , never-before-seen technologies and infrastructure, luxury hotels, resorts and restaurants, cloud-creating mechanisms to cause rainfall in arid areas, glow-in-the-dark sandy beaches, and even an artificial moon.
Another aim of project is to make NEOM the safest city on the planet, through state-of-the-art surveillance systems including drones, automated cameras, facial and biometric recognition machines and AI capable of reporting crimes without the need for citizens to report them. Similarly, the leaders of the urban development initiative themselves predict that the city will be an ecological centre of great projection, basing its power supply system solely on solar and wind energy obtained from panels and windmills, as they have a whole desert to install them in.
At the moment, NEOM is only a project in its infancy. The land on which the big city will be located is a desert terrain, mountains up to 2,500 metres high and 468 kilometres of pristine coastline of turquoise blue water, with a palace and a small airport. NEOM is being built from scratch, with an initial outlay of $9 billion from the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority (SAMA). Apart from foreign business investment, the Saudi government is looking for workers from all professional sectors to help in their respective fields: Jurists to draft a civil, criminal and tax code; engineers and architects to design a modern, efficient and technological infrastructure and energy plan; diplomats to collaborate in its promotion and cultural coexistence; scientists and doctors to encourage clinical and biotechnological research and welfare; academics to promote Education; economists to make income and expenditure profitable; personalities specialising in tourism, fashion and telecommunications... But, above all, people and families to inhabit and give life to the city.
As reported by the Arabic daily Rai Al Youm, Mohammed bin Salman has C a proposal prepared by a joint Saudi legal committee with the UK, which consists of providing a VIP document that will offer special visas, residency programrights to investors, senior officials and workers in the future city. Contracts business have already been awarded to the US engineering firm Aecom and construction contracts to the UK's Arup Group, Canada's WSP, and the Netherlands' Fugro NV.
However, not everything is as ideal and straightforward as it seems. Despite the strong interest of 400 foreign companies in project, according to the local government, there is uncertainty about its profitability. Problems and scandals related to the Saudi crown, such as the imprisonment of family members and dissidents, corruption, unequal rights, the military intervention in Yemen, the case of the murder of journalist Khashoggi and the possible political crisis following the future death of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Mohammed's father, have caused investors to tread carefully. Moreover, in the region where the city is to be built there are villages of locals who would be relocated, and "compensated and supported by social programmes", according to the Saudi government, which will be criticised by human rights groups.
In conclusion, NEOM is a unique project and a match for the Arab sheikhs themselves, who have adopted a far-sighted economic vision. It is expected that by 2030 it will be possible to live in the city, even if construction is still underway and not yet fully completed. According to the markets, the project, still far from completion, seems to be on track. It already has a structural financing commitment with BlackStone of 20 billion euros, and a technology financing commitment with SoftBank of 45 billion euros. Because such a project has never been seen before and therefore there are no references, it is difficult to determine whether the visionary plan will be successfully consolidated or whether it will remain just smoke and mirrors and a huge loss of money.