Neom

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Neom
نيوم
City
Official seal of Neom
Neom is located in Saudi Arabia
Neom
Neom
Neom in Saudi Arabia
Coordinates: 28°0′23″N 35°12′9″E / 28.00639°N 35.20250°E / 28.00639; 35.20250Coordinates: 28°0′23″N 35°12′9″E / 28.00639°N 35.20250°E / 28.00639; 35.20250
Country Saudi Arabia
ProvinceTabuk
Announced24 October 2017; 5 years ago (2017-10-24)
Founded byMohammed bin Salman
SeatHouse of Saud
Government
 • DirectorNadhmi Al-Nasr[1]
Area
 • Total26,500 km2 (10,200 sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+03 (Arabian Standard Time)
WebsiteOfficial website

Neom (styled NEOM; Arabic: نيوم Neom, Hejazi pronunciation: [nɪˈjo̞ːm]) is a city being built in Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia. It is planned to incorporate smart city technologies and function as a tourist destination. The site is north of the Red Sea, east of Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba, and south of Jordan. It is planned to cover a total area of 26,500 km2 (10,200 sq mi), extending 170 kilometres along the coast of the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia aimed to complete major parts of the project by 2020, with an expansion completed in 2025, but it is behind schedule.[2][3][4] The project has an estimated cost of $500 billion.[5] On January 29, 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that it had set up a closed joint-stock company named Neom.[6] The aim of this company, which is wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is to develop the economic zone of Neom.[7] The project is planned to be totally powered by renewable energy sources.[8]

Experts have expressed skepticism about the ambitions of the megaproject.[9] According to a 2022 report in The Economist, only two buildings have been constructed thus far, and most of the project area remains bare desert.[4] The project has been marred by human rights controversies, involving the eviction of the local population, an abusive work culture, and the use of surveillance technologies.

Etymology[edit]

The name "Neom" was constructed from two words. The first three letters form the Ancient Greek prefix νέο Neo- meaning “new”. The fourth letter is from the abbreviation of Arabic: مستقبل, romanizedMustaqbal, (Hejazi pronunciation: [mʊsˈtaɡbal]), the Arabic word for “future.”[10][11]

History[edit]

The city was announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 24, 2017.[12] He said it would operate independently from the “existing governmental framework” with its own tax and labour laws and an "autonomous judicial system."[13] Egypt announced in 2018 that it is contributing some land to the Neom project.[14]

Klaus Kleinfeld was announced as the inaugural director for the Neom project upon its launch by Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman.[15] In 2018, Kleinfeld signed Gladstone Place Partners LLC for "Communications Services" for the Neom project, for a fee of $199,500 plus expenses of $45,000.[16][17] On 3 July 2018, Kleinfeld was announced as the new advisor to Muhammed bin Salman from 1 August 2018 onwards. Nadhmi Al-Nasr would succeed him as the new Director of Neom from 1 August 2018.[15]

The initiative emerged from Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors.[18] Plans call for robots to perform functions such as security, logistics, home delivery, and caregiving[19] and for the city to be powered solely with wind and solar power.[13] Because the city will be designed and constructed from scratch, other innovations in infrastructure and mobility have been suggested. Planning and construction will be initiated with $500 billion from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and international investors.[20] The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion by 2025.[21]

In July 2020, the US's Air Products & Chemicals Inc announced that it would build the world's largest green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia. Air Products will jointly own the US$5 billion project, Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power and Neom.[22] In May 2022, Indian conglomerate Larsen & Toubro was awarded the contract for construction of a 2,930 MW solar power generation plant, a 1,370 MW wind power farm, a 400 MW battery energy storage system, along with a power transmission network of around 190 km.[23]

On 3 March 2022, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the Trojena project, which will be the first major outdoor skiing destination in the Arabian Peninsula. It will be located in Saudi Arabia's highest mountain range, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) from the Gulf of Aqaba coast, with elevations ranging from 1,500–2,600 metres (4,900–8,500 ft). The site is considerably cooler than the rest of Neom's territory.[24][25][26][27][28]

The decision to award the 2029 Asian Winter Games to Saudi Arabia received criticism concerning its adverse environmental impact. On a French radio show, Olympic downhill silver medallist, Johan Clarey said, “it is awful for our sport”. Meanwhile, the secretary general of the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, Michel Vion expressed surprise at the decision of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). The Games are said to be held in the Trojena resort area of the half-a-trillion-dollar futuristic megacity. The Saudi project, amidst increasing global warming concerns, raised multiple issues ranging from the expected high temperatures in the desert land, the energy impact, to detour of local water resources to the construction of artificial ski slopes from scratch. Raphael Le Magoariec, expert in the geopolitics of the sport of the Gulf nations at University of Tours claimed that Riyadh “mainly wants to promote its city of the future, NEOM”.[29]

Public relations[edit]

According to a US Justice Department filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the Saudi mega-city developing firm NEOM Company hired Edelman, an American public relations and marketing consultancy, for assistance with public relations on the “smart-city” project. As per their three-month contract with the Chicago-based Edelman, Neom paid Edelman $75,000 per month for international work done. Under this contract, the PR firm provided communications support in various sectors, including strategic counsel, stakeholder identification and engagement, media relations, and content development. Neom and Edelman refused to comment on the deal. In two years since 2019, Edelman counted as the fourth PR firm hired by Neom, following BCW, Ruder Finn, and Teneo.

Based on reports by human rights organisations, Saudi residents have pushed against the development of Neom, which would require the resettlement of 20,000 residents, including Bedouin tribe members. A tribesman was also allegedly shot dead on refusing to give up his land, raising humanitarian concerns.[30][31][32]

In July 2020, a sponsorship with the League of Legends European Championship gathered significant backlash from the professional League of Legends community, including gamers and the league's staff. The backlash was centered around human rights abuses from the Saudi government, particularly its record on LGBT rights.[33] As a result of the backlash, the sponsorship was cancelled within several hours of the announcement.[34]

Aerial view in 2012 of the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Some of the illustrations for the Neom project were taken from the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, leaving commentators to note that "using an actual shot of Singapore to depict an upcoming construction project in Saudi Arabia is an odd choice".[35][36]

In March 2020, Neom signed a partnership deal as a principal partner with Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team.[37] Two years later, Neom became the title sponsor for McLaren Racing's electric motorsport division as NEOM McLaren Electric Racing from the 2022–23 season with McLaren's Formula E and Extreme E divisions renamed as NEOM McLaren Formula E Team and NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team respectively.[38]

In March 2021, Neom signed a four-year global sponsorship agreement with the Asian Football Confederation.[39]

Neom hosted Extreme E's 2022 Desert X-Prix and held the naming rights to the series' Island X-Prix in Sardinia.[40][41] Before the latter race, the project's energy company Enowa formed a multi-year partnership with Extreme E as its "Official Green Hydrogen Power Partner" and the sponsor of the "Hyperdrive" feature.[42]

The cognitive multinational company NEOM Tech & Digital Company is the first subsidiary company to evolve from NEOM. In September 2022 it renamed itself to Tonomus.[43]

Proposed parts[edit]

The Line[edit]

In January 2021, the project unveiled plans for The Line, a linear city 170 kilometres (110 mi) long and 200 metres (660 ft) wide within the Neom area. It is planned to house 9 million residents without conventional cars, with all basic services within a 5-minute walking distance.[44][45]

The design for Neom, The Line project, was further modified in July 2022. Instead of constructing a city consisting of multiple buildings on a linear plan, it will be consolidated into one giant structure that is 500 metres (1,600 ft) tall, 200 metres (660 ft) wide and 170 kilometres (110 mi) long.[46]

Neom Bay[edit]

The development work of the project's first phase, Neom Bay, was planned to start in the first quarter of 2019 and be completed by 2020.[47][needs update] The developments were to include constructing the airport at Sharma which would operate regular commercial flights between Riyadh and Neom.[48] The plan of Neom Bay's developments also involves building the first residential area in Neom as part of phase 1.[49]

Neom Bay Airport[edit]

In June 2019, it was announced that the Neom Bay Airport would start to receive commercial flights after the first phase of the airport was completed with a runway length of 3,757 m (12,326 ft).[50][51][52][needs update] The airport that is planned to be located at Neom Bay has been registered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) with the code NUM.[51]

Neom Industrial City[edit]

Neom Industrial City (NIC) is located around 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of the town of Duba, and covers roughly 200–250 square kilometres (77–97 sq mi) of land, of which approximately 40 square kilometres (15 sq mi) forms the NIC. The project will focus on modern manufacturing, industrial research, and development centered on expanding the Duba port.[53] In November 2021, the project was renamed to Oxagon and described as a floating industrial complex shaped like a regular octagon; it will be the largest in the world when completed, and would serve as a port for shipping routes through the Red Sea.[54] Mohammed bin Salman billed the project as representing a radical new model for future manufacturing centers, based on Neom's strategies of redefining the way humanity lives and works in the future.[54][55][56]

Agriculture[edit]

Neom plans[57] for 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of the surrounding land to become agricultural fields, and to rely heavily on genetically engineered crops.[58]

Controversies[edit]

In late 2018, after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said that "No one will invest [in the project] for years."[59] Advisers to Neom, including Daniel L. Doctoroff[60] and architect Norman Foster, were reported to have distanced themselves from the project and the "toxic" Saudi crown prince.[61] Also, the scope of the projects based on the crown prince's vision incorporates some technologies that do not even exist, like flying cars, robot maids, dinosaur robots, and a giant artificial moon.[62] It is estimated that 20,000 people will be forced to relocate to accommodate the planned city.[63]

Evictions and executions[edit]

On 13 April 2020, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti posted videos online announcing that Saudi security forces were trying to evict him and other members of the Howeitat tribe from their historical homeland to make way for the development of Neom.[11][64] Alya Abutayah Alhwaiti, a human rights activist in London from the same tribe, circulated the videos.[64] In the videos, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti said he would defy the eviction orders, though he expected Saudi authorities would plant weapons in his house to incriminate him. He was later killed by Saudi security forces, who claimed he had opened fire on them. This version of events was disputed by Alya Alhwaiti, who said he did not own firearms. His funeral was held near the village of al-Khoraibah and was well attended, despite the presence of Saudi security forces.[64]

Eight cousins of Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti have been arrested for protesting against the eviction order, but Alya Alhwaiti said that she and human rights activists in the west hoped to challenge the arrests. The tribe is not opposed to the development of Neom but does not want to be evicted from their traditional homeland. Alya Alhwaiti received death threats from people she says are supporters of Mohammed bin Salman.[64] The threats were reported to British police.[64]

In June 2020, Mohammed bin Salman hired a US public relations and lobbying firm to counter the criticism and controversies around the Neom city project. The country signed a contract worth $1.7 million with the PR company Ruder Finn.[65]

In November 2020, British lawyers representing the Bedouin tribe displaced in the development of Neom urged Dominic Raab to boycott the G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia. The attorneys cited that Britain has a moral imperative to take a stand in defense of the tribe and confront Saudi Arabia over its human rights issues.[66]

In October 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court of Saudi Arabia sentenced three members of the Howeitat tribe to death for resisting displacement. The three men were arrested in 2020 for opposing the eviction of their tribe for the project. One of the condemned men, Shadli al-Howeiti, was the brother of Abdul Rahim al-Howeiti.[67][68]

Abusive work culture[edit]

The CEO of the NEOM project, Nadhmi Al-Nasr was reported by former employees for promoting a management culture that ‘belittled expatriates, made unrealistic demands, and neglected discrimination in the workplace, according to the Bloomberg Businessweek and The Wall Street Journal.[11][69] The resignation letter of a former chief executive, Andrew Wirth accused Nasr’s leadership of being "consistently inclusive of disparagement and inappropriately dismissive and demeaning outbursts". Nasr, appointed by Prince Mohammed with the responsibility to lead NEOM, was accused in his tenure of berating and scaring his employees, as confirmed by present and former staff members. Two gigaprojects under the Saudi Vision 2030 were merged in 2022, while the remaining three projects lost their expatriate chief executives and turned over the senior management.

The Saudi government refused to comment, while Neom declined to make Nasr available for answers or interview requests. However, a written statement was issued by Neom in defense of Nasr and the management culture at the megaproject. The statement claimed that Neom represented "a scale and ambition the world has never seen before" and that it continued to retain and attract more talent, adding that "employees are passionate about what they do and deeply committed to living up to, and delivering on, the Neom vision." People who have worked on the project with Nasr claimed that the CEO had been committed to delivering the $500 billion worth of the project at all costs. Anthony Harris, a former director of innovation at Neom's education team, accused the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a faulty workplace culture since "Nadhmi takes his cue from his boss, and everyone else at Neom takes their cue from Nadhmi." In a recording heard by The Wall Street Journal, Nasr once said at a meeting, "I drive everybody like a slave, when they drop down dead, I celebrate. That’s how I do my projects." He threatened to replace employees stuck in other countries during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020, which included the former director of branding and marketing. Nasr reportedly impressed Prince Mohammed with his work in the past at the Aramco and by developing a university on the Red Sea, which was applauded in 2009 by a Dubai-based magazine as "an international achievement".[69]

Surveillance[edit]

The Line, a smart city housed within Neom that has been aimed to be designed with the help of artificial intelligence, announced plans to use data as a currency to manage and provide facilities such as, power, waste, water, healthcare, transport and security. It was said that data would also be collected from the smartphones of the residents, their homes, facial recognition cameras and multiple other sensors. According to Joseph Bradley, the chief executive of Neom Tech & Digital Co., the data sweep would help developers feed the collected information to the city for further predicting and customising every user's needs.[70]

However, Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record[71] and use of espionage[72] and surveillance technology for spying on its citizens,[73] invading their privacy and security, emerged as a roadblock in the situation, according to digital rights experts. A researcher of the social impacts of technology, Vincent Mosco stated, “the surveillance concerns are justified” while further adding that “it is, in effect, a surveillance city”.[70]

When reached out for comments on the matter and concerns raised by digital rights experts and researchers, the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology failed to respond.[70]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]