The Saudi crown prince revealed his latest vision for Neom, the $1 trillion ‘utopian’ megacity that critics fear will become a dystopian nightmare

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This concept image shows the planned design of ‘The Line,’ a ‘vertical skyscraper’ from the planned futuristic Saudi Arabian city of Neom that cuts through the desert in the northwest of the country.

Saudi Arabia unveiled new pictures of the Neom megacity planned by its ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.
They highlight the landscapes surrounding the city, and present it as a vacation paradise. 
But human-rights groups have concerns about the city’s plans for mass surveillance.

In a desert in the arid northwest of Saudi Arabia, plans for a trillion-dollar, futuristic megacity are beginning to take shape.

Neom is the brainchild of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

In his bid to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, the crown prince aims to attract billions in investment to Neom, which he envisages as a tourism attraction and global hub for technology and innovation. 

In a new set of pictures released by Neom and Unsplash, the city is portrayed as a paradisaical adventure holiday resort. 

But activists are warning that that rights are being trampled as Saudi Arabia readies parts of the resort to be opened to visitors. 

Let’s take a look at the latest images. 

Saudi Arabia is seeking to draw millions of tourists to Neom
An photograph released in May 2023 showing a desert canyon in Saudi Arabia where Neom is due to be built

For decades, Saudi Arabia was better known for its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam and oil wealth than as a tourist destination. 

The kingdom already hosts millions of Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca every year, but was essentially closed to other visitors. It made a dramatic change in 2019, issuing its first tourist visas.

Crown Prince Mohammed has ambitious plans to drive further change, and hopes to attract 100 million visitors to the kingdom each year.

Neom is being billed as a core attraction, and is described on its website as the “world’s most ambitious tourism project.”

 

The city will be built on 10,200 square miles of desert
This promotional photograph shows the Saudi Arabian desert where the city of Neom will be built.

The new images depict the unspoilt desert wilderness where the city will be built. 

Saudi Arabia has been keen to highlight to ecological credentials of the project as it seeks to pivot away from fossil fuels as part of its Vision 2030 plan. 

The city, planners say, will run entirely on renewable energy and 95% of the surrounding landscape and sea will be “protected for nature.” 

 

The coral reefs and hidden wrecks of the Red Sea are presented as among the exotic attractions
An photograph showing a diver in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, near the site of the planned Neom megacity

Tabuk Province, where Neom is being built, has the longest stretch of Red Sea coastline in Saudi Arabia. 

As well as Neom, luxury residences and eco resorts are being built on islands off the coast.

The kingdom aims to attract scuba divers and yachters to the resorts.  

“Go diving in Tabuk before the rest of the world discovers this dive area. You will be rewarded with crystal-clear, warm waters and pristine coral reefs few people have ever dived,” said the diving news outlet Scubaverse in 2022.

 

 

 

The first part of Neom slated to be finished is Sindalah, an island due to include yacht marinas and luxury hotels. Officials say it will be opened to visitors from 2024.
A concept image of the island of Sindalah, a planned yachting resort due to form part of the Neom project.

“The destination will create a new season for superyachts, a dream alternative for yacht owners who want to spend the winter in an easily accessible location,” Luca Dini, CEO of Luca Dini studio which designed the island resort, told Arab News.

A new airport opened in the resort in 2019. 

But critics believe that the scale and ambition of the project mean it may never be fully realised, and ambitions for millions to live there in around a decade seem fanciful, Money Week reported. 

The images present the desert site as a place of mystery and wonder
An photograph showing a nighttime view of mountains in the region in northwest Saudi Arabia where planners say Neom will be built.

The main planned residential area of Neom is “The Line,” a 130-mile long building tower that cuts through the desert and is described by designers as a horizontal skyscraper.

Residents and visitors are promised sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. 

Saudi Arabia says it’ll be able to preserve vast swaths of the desert, and will even begin reintroducing vanished wildlife. 

 

 

But the glossy prospectus doesn’t tell the whole story, and activists are raising alarm about Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record.
A Saudi Arabia flag flies behind barbed wires at the backyard in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 13, 2018

Saudi Arabia in May sentenced three men to death from the Howeitat tribe, which traditionally lives on lands earmarked for Neom’s development. The cause was that they refused to be evicted from the site, the UN said. 

“Despite being charged with terrorism, they were reportedly arrested for resisting forced evictions in the name of the Neom project and the construction of a 170km linear city called The Line,” the UN experts said. 

The UN alleges that Saudi Arabian officials evicted the tribe from three villages in the area, and despite promises did not compensate them adequately. One man resisting eviction was killed by Saudi special forces, it said in May.

And experts told Insider that recent deals with China hint at plans for the sweeping surveillance of Neom residents
Saudi security personnel monitor the hajj pilgrimage from a control room in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, in October 2012.

Crown Prince Mohammed has presented himself as a reformer, keen to open up the kingdom to investment and liberalize the ultra-conservative society.

But critics say that this masks a brutal authoritarian streak, and point to the crown prince’s persecution of critics, the war he has waged in Yemen, and the 2018 assassination of dissident Jamal Khashoggi (the crown prince has denied any involvement in the killing.)

Activists are alarmed by recent deals between Saudi Arabia and Chinese tech giants, which they say could enable Saudi security services to harvest data from residents and surveil them. 

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

​Politics, Features, News UK, Saudi Arabia, NEOM  

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