This is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS. He’s considered the de facto ruler of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
NBS announced the futuristic city project called Neom back in 2017 to simplify what Neom would look like. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two mobile phones, an old phone, and another newer smartphone. This is what we’re going to achieve in Neom.
He’s creating a city at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, where there is no city, no habitation of any size at all. He really wants them to be something that hasn’t existed in the world before.
I think that’s very important to him that this is not modeled on anything else, even though other people might point out it has similarities to other models. He really wants this to be like something brand new and completely innovative and completely out of the box and something that the world has never seen before and that he has brought into existence.
Neom gets its name from two words Neo, which is the Greek word for new, and M, which is an abbreviation of the Arabic word Mostaqbal. Arabic for the future.
Also, the first letter of the Crown Prince’s name is M. Neom is a proposed futuristic, smart city currently being built in the Tabac province in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The site sits next to the Gulf of Aqaba, which borders Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
The project plans to cover an area of more than 10,000 square miles, about the same size as Massachusetts. The mammoth project, which is a part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan to diversify its economy away from oil is expected to complete its first phase by 2030 and cost $319 Billion.
Neom is this incredibly expansive project that started its conceptual life as an idea to build a brand new city, and it has since really just grown and grown and sprouted new heads. And it’s no longer just a new city.
It’s this entire new region that has all of these different components, one of which is an octagon-shaped industrial city that partially floats on the Red Sea. There is a ski resort component up in the mountains that they’re calling Trojan.
And then most recently, they also announced a sort of island resort project called Medalla that’s extremely high-end and geared to sort yacht owners and very high-end tourists.
Stuff with developed neom on the line. One of the chief components of Neom is the line a linear, smart city with no roads, cars, or emissions. The city will run on 100% renewable energy. And what’s more, Saudi officials say the city could accommodate 9 million residents by 2045. The line is really the centerpiece of Neom at this point.
It’s the biggest and the splashiest and most kind of ambitious part of the project. It is essentially a linear city that is composed of two buildings that are about 200 meters wide, and 500 meters tall, which is basically the size of the Empire State Building, a bit taller even. And then it would run for 100 miles.
So this very narrow strip of a building skyscraper, extremely high, this kind of mirrored facade and the interior between these two long strips of buildings, you have this kind of verdant kind of interior that they’re imagining would be the place where people would live and play and work. It’s really enormous. It’s hard to almost envision the idea that they want to say that they’re going to have 9 million people eventually living in this city, which is really just a building. So it’s an entire city in one structure, essentially.
Pnb is luring big names to be part of this project by giving them offers they can’t refuse. In 2017, the project hired three of the world’s largest consultancy firms, McKinsey Boston Consulting and Oliver Wyman, in multimillion-dollar deals. Not only that, Neom offers a lucrative salary to global talents with zero taxes. In 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported the project is paying senior executives roughly $1.1 million a year.
Neom is a real thing. There’s real money that’s been devoted to it already and more that seems almost certain to be spent on it. They’re very serious about all of this. People who are making neom really think they can make a city that is different from every city that’s come before. That’s more modern than any country or any city that’s come before. It sounds like a total white elephant project to a lot of people.
And it may very well be that. Neom gets its money from the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi government. However, MBS is now planning to raise money by offering shares of Neom to investors via an initial public offering. It’s something that he’s talked about the kind of from the beginning.
The idea that we want to IPO the city or to IPO now and again, it kind of fits in with this idea of the city as a corporation, this kind of purely capitalistic city, which is not typically how cities are run and make it very unusual in that respect. They’re also talking about bringing in a kind of potential investment from other regional investors. Saudi investors like Saudi private sector investors.
So they’re trying to kind of create a funding mix. I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges, definitely, though, is how you get together Even in the first phase, $320 billion is just an enormous amount of money. Right? They can’t fund that themselves, obviously, because if the entire sovereign fund is 600, $700 billion, you can’t spend half of it on.
So they definitely need to bring in outside investors. Neom is projected as an eco-friendly city powered entirely by renewable energy. However, critics argue that those claims are just a form of greenwashing from the world’s largest oil exporter.
Also, Neom is under a lot of scrutiny for its treatment of the Kuwaiti tribe, who have been forcefully removed from the planned city by Saudi forces in 2020. Abdul Rahim al-Kuwaiti, a prominent member of the tribe who regularly posted videos of the forced evictions, was shot dead by Saudi security forces.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. There were already kind of pockets of resistance to the relocations, arrests, and people facing repercussions. And then over time, that resistance has been largely silenced. Right. People are afraid or they kind of decided, you know what, I just need to take the compensation and move in with my life, you know, because obviously, resistance is not going to be fruitful.
And then more recently, we have also seen that three members of the community who had been involved in this kind of resistance movement, one of whom was the brother of Abdurrahman Jose, who had been arrested, were sentenced to death, According to some human rights groups that are following these cases.
There’s not a lot of transparency around these cases, and we haven’t really had many statements from the government around what’s going on, what they might be charged with, and why a death sentence would even come into play. We do know very much that this is contentious, that many of them did not want to be removed and that many of them feel that they were not fairly compensated.
The Neom PR team did not respond to a request for comment. The Saudi crown prince has been applauded for his economic reforms and for creating more opportunities for women in the country. But on the other hand, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has become a prime example of his authoritarian tendencies.
Some argue that MBS is using Neom to project himself as a so-called reformer more of a PR stunt than an actual construction project. Mohammed bin Salman wants to project himself as a liberal leader within the conservative royal family in Saudi Arabia. Neom is a mega project, that is seen in Saudi Arabia and the young Saudi population as part of this liberalization process under Mohammed bin Salman.
I think there’s a good chance that it won’t work at all. But the fact that Saudi Arabia has under MBS, had this grandiose vision that’s both a criticism of that vision and praise for it, because having a vision like that is one of the things Saudi Arabia has never had before and that it really kind of need.
So it’s better to have, I guess, no vision than to have a bad vision. But having a vision does seem like a necessary part of any successful plan for a vast modernization and improvement of the country.
This is a physical and technological and symbolic legacy that he wants to leave behind that represents everything that he is doing for Saudi Arabia. It’s reached this level of incredible importance to him and to the state, and he is spending an incredible amount of resources and time because it’s something that he will leave behind.