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‘An Accelerator for Human Progress’ – A Utopian Hub or an Auspicious Dream?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Rachel Basten




Neom – Saudi Arabia’s mega-city project made headlines this week as the covert meeting place of Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudi Prince, Muhammad bin Salman. Situated in the Tubak province in north-west Saudi Arabia, plans have been levied to create a $500 billion desert oasis the size of Belgium. Instead of investing in Saudi’s current infrastructure, Neom represents a clear strategy to challenge existing technological boundaries and build a city that is equipped for the future and not the present. Some of the ideas for Neom are still somewhat theoretical and typical of a futuristic ideal, including flying cars, robot-maids and fake moons, and yet other elements such as the ‘cloud seeding’ technology seem to push the bounds of innovation and urbanisation.[1] Following their inception in Dubai, the development of artificial clouds that produce rainfall sanctions man to alter the natural ecosystem like never before – a scary yet seemingly fascinating utopian concept.


Still in the nascent stages of development, it has not been an easy-ride thus far with the prince facing road-blocks from the Huwaitat tribe over their rights to the land; rights that they claim are entrenched by ancestral heritage.[2] The Saudi Human Rights movement, ALQST, in June 2020 even went as far as releasing an open-letter that called for companies involved in Neom’s innovation to condemn ‘its human rights violations’.[3] Whilst ‘Neom’ itself then is a portmanteau, combining the Greek word neos ‘new’ and the Arabic word mustaqbal ‘future’, the future does not look as bright for these indigenous peoples who do not share the prince’s utopian vision. With vital infrastructure well underway, such as the construction of an international airport, it seems that the Saudi government is committed to the project. As Nadhmi Al Nasr, Neom CEO, has recently stated – their transfer of headquarters to Tubak in October this year ‘will act as a springboard for growth’ which suggests that Neom’s construction plans have not halted, even as Saudi Arabia closed its borders following the outbreak of Covid-19.[4]


Nonetheless, no matter how bold the plans for Neom may seem, it is not surprising that Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its commodity-based economy, with the recent fall in oil prices coupled with the inherent uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. Oil stock prices have generally favoured the news of a COVID-19 vaccine in recent weeks, which can be reconciled with Aramco’s reports that they have seen ‘early signs of recovery’ in their Third Quarter review.[5] Yet, as CNBC has reported, Saudi Aramco’s ‘net profit dropped to 44.21 billion riyals ($11.8 billion) this quarter from 79.84 billion riyals in the third quarter of 2019’ – even to the untrained eye, this is a particularly damaging margin.[6]


The move to industries centred around tourism and entertainment should not come as a shock when considering the positive reforms that have since been implemented in the country; allowing women behind the wheel, laxer dress codes and even introducing the first travel e-visa in September last year. In the Neom Brochure, reference is made to the creation of a community centred upon a culture of ‘difference, diversity and open-mindedness’.[7] Steadily but surely, Saudi Arabia inches closer to its goal of becoming an international holiday hub – but are they prepared to change their justice system and to forego Islamic legal codes, following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates? Their website certainly leads to this assumption through its constant stress on the ‘international’, promising a ‘progressive legal system compatible with international norms and conducive to economic growth’ with people ‘from a mix of homelands, religions and backgrounds’.[8]Neom is not only technologically forward-thinking as, if completed, but also uphold standards of cultural diversity that have not yet been met in a Saudi Arabian state.


It awaits to be seen as to how Neom will be integrated within Saudi Arabia, only time will tell

as to whether it will remain isolated both by land and law or whether it will generate further reform throughout the country. When considering that the Saudi state was created in 1932, with its first university formed just over 50 years ago, the concept of Neom - a city unparalleled for its technological capability - becomes even more impressive. Yet, whilst the ‘Vision 2030’ encapsulates an unrivalled futuristic ideal, it does, for now, remain only a ‘bold and audacious dream’.[9]




 

Sources [1] Justin Scheck, Rory Jones and Summer Said, ‘A Prince’s $500 Billion Desert Dream: Flying Cars, Robot Dinosaurs and a Giant Artificial Moon’ (The Wall Street Journal, 25 July 2019) <https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-princes-500-billion-desert-dream-flying-cars-robot-dinosaurs-and-a-giant-artificial-moon-11564097568> accessed 24 November 2020 [2] Ruth Michaelson, ‘It’s being built on our blood’: the true cost of Saudi Arabia’s $500bn megacity’ (The Guardian, 4 May 2020) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/04/its-being-built-on-our-blood-the-true-cost-of-saudi-arabia-5bn-mega-city-neom> accessed 24 November 2020 [3] ALQST et al., ‘Open Letter From NGOs Calling On Companies Involved In Saudi Arabia’s NEOM Project To Condemn Human Rights Violations Accompanying It’ (ALQST, 2 June 2020) <https://alqst.org/en/post/open-letter-NEOM-project> accessed 25 November 2020 [4] Neom Newsroom, ‘Neom moves headquarters to northwest of the Kingdom’ (18 October 2020) <https://newsroom.neom.com/neom-moves-headquarters-to-northwest-of-the-kingdom> accessed 25 November 2020 [5] Anon, ‘2020: Saudi Arabian Oil Company Third Quarter Interim Report’ (September 2020) 2 <https://www.aramco.com/-/media/publications/corporate-reports/saudi-aramco-q3-2020-interim-report-english.pdf?la=en&hash=4D9A163B52F431769C6467AF4C10A641B9445AB6> accessed 25 November 2020 [6] Natasha Turak, ‘Saudi Aramco’s net profit drops 45% in the third quarter on weak oil demand’ (CNBC, 3 November 2020) <https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/03/aramcos-net-profit-drops-45percent-in-the-third-quarter.html> accessed 26 November 2020 [7] ‘Neom Brochure: An Acceleration for Human Progress’ (2020) 20 <https://www.neom.com/en-us/static/pdf/en/NEOM_BROCHURE_EN.pdf> accessed 24 November 2020 [8] Neom, ‘A place on Earth like nothing on Earth’ (2020) <https://www.neom.com/en-us/about/#international> accessed 25 November 2020 [9] Neom, ‘A vision of what a New Future might look like’ (2020) <https://www.neom.com/en-us/about/#mission> accessed 25 November 2020

Bibliography

‘Neom Brochure: An Acceleration for Human Progress’ (2020) 20 <https://www.neom.com/en-us/static/pdf/en/NEOM_BROCHURE_EN.pdf> accessed 24 November 2020


ALQST et al., ‘Open Letter From NGOs Calling On Companies Involved In Saudi Arabia’s NEOM Project To Condemn Human Rights Violations Accompanying It’ (ALQST, 2 June 2020) <https://alqst.org/en/post/open-letter-NEOM-project> accessed 25 November 2020


Anon, ‘2020: Saudi Arabian Oil Company Third Quarter Interim Report’ (September 2020) 2 <https://www.aramco.com/-/media/publications/corporate-reports/saudi-aramco-q3-2020-interim-report-english.pdf?la=en&hash=4D9A163B52F431769C6467AF4C10A641B9445AB6> accessed 25 November 2020


Justin Scheck, Rory Jones and Summer Said, ‘A Prince’s $500 Billion Desert Dream: Flying Cars, Robot Dinosaurs and a Giant Artificial Moon’ (The Wall Street Journal, 25 July 2019) <https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-princes-500-billion-desert-dream-flying-cars-robot-dinosaurs-and-a-giant-artificial-moon-11564097568> accessed 24 November 2020


Natasha Turak, ‘Saudi Aramco’s net profit drops 45% in the third quarter on weak oil demand’ (CNBC, 3 November 2020)<https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/03/aramcos-net-profit-drops-45percent-in-the-third-quarter.html> accessed 26 November 2020


Neom Newsroom, ‘Neom moves headquarters to northwest of the Kingdom’ (18 October 2020) <https://newsroom.neom.com/neom-moves-headquarters-to-northwest-of-the-kingdom> accessed 25 November 2020


Neom, ‘A place on Earth like nothing on Earth’ (2020) <https://www.neom.com/en-us/about/#international> accessed 25 November 2020


Neom, ‘A vision of what a New Future might look like’ (2020) <https://www.neom.com/en-us/about/#mission> accessed 25 November 2020


Ruth Michaelson, ‘It’s being built on our blood’: the true cost of Saudi Arabia’s $500bn megacity’ (The Guardian, 4 May 2020) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/04/its-being-built-on-our-blood-the-true-cost-of-saudi-arabia-5bn-mega-city-neom> accessed 24 November 2020

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