Neom (styled NEOM; Arabic: نيوم, romanizedNiyūm, Hejazi Arabic pronunciation: [nɪˈjo̞ːm]) is a new urban area planned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be built in its northwestern Tabuk Province. The site is north of the Red Sea, east of Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba and south of Jordan. The total planned area of Neom is 26,500 km2 (10,200 sq mi). The city's plans include multiple regions, including a floating industrial complex, global trade hub, tourist resorts and a linear city powered by renewable energy sources.[2] It was launched in 2017 by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Official seal of Neom
Neom is located in Saudi Arabia
Neom in Saudi Arabia
Coordinates: 28°0′23″N 35°12′9″E / 28.00639°N 35.20250°E / 28.00639; 35.20250
CountrySaudi Arabia
Announced24 October 2017; 6 years ago (2017-10-24)
Founded byMohammed bin Salman
SeatHouse of Saud
 • Lord MayorNadhmi Al-Nasr[1]
 • Total26,500 km2 (10,200 sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+03 (Arabian Standard Time) Edit this at Wikidata

Developers intend for the majority of the city to be completed by 2039.[3] Experts have expressed skepticism about the ambitions of the megaproject.[4] Saudi Arabia originally aimed to complete major parts of the project by 2020, with an expansion completed in 2025, but then fell behind schedule.[5][6] By July 2022, only two buildings had been constructed, and most of the project area remained bare desert.[6]

The project's estimated cost exceeds $500 billion.[7] On January 29, 2019, the Saudi government announced that it had established a closed joint-stock company named Neom.[8] The company is wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund and is solely dedicated to developing the economic zone of Neom.[9]

Etymology edit

The name "Neom" is a portmanteau. The first three letters form the Ancient Greek prefix νέο Neo- meaning "new". The fourth letter, M, is the first letter of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's name,[10] as well as the first letter of the Arabic word for "future" (Arabic: مستقبل, romanizedMustaqbal, Hejazi Arabic pronunciation: [mʊsˈtaɡbal]).[11][12]

History edit

Salman announced plans for the city at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh on October 24, 2017.[13] He said that it would operate independently from the “existing governmental framework” with its own tax and labour laws and an "autonomous judicial system."[14] Egypt announced in 2018 that it would contribute some land to the Neom project.[15]

Klaus Kleinfeld was announced by Salman as the inaugural director for the Neom project upon its launch.[16] In 2018, Kleinfeld signed Gladstone Place Partners LLC to handle communications services for the Neom project for a fee of $199,500 plus expenses of $45,000.[17][18] Kleinfeld was then announced as an advisor to bin Salman and Nadhmi Al-Nasr as the director of Neom.[16]

The initiative to create the city of Neom emerged from Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public-service sectors.[19] Plans call for robots to perform functions such as security, logistics, home delivery and caregiving[20] and for the city to be powered solely with wind and solar power.[14] The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion by 2025, and in 2024 tourists will begin to visit.[21][22] The project planned to raise up to 3 billion riyals from local banks to fund the development of Sindalah Island, a luxury tourism development.[23]

Planned regions 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. The design for The Line was further modified in July 2022, scrapping the original idea for multiple buildings on a linear plan, instead combining the buildings into one continuous structure with an entirely glass mirror exterior.[24] The car-free city is planned to be large enough to house nine million residents within walkable communities, with all basic services within a five-minute walking distance.[2][25]

Neom Bay edit

The development work of the project's first phase, Neom Bay, was planned to start in the first quarter of 2019 with completion by 2020.[26][needs update] The developments were to include constructing the airport at Sharma, which would operate regular commercial flights between Riyadh and Neom.[27] The plan of Neom Bay's developments also involves building the first residential area in Neom as part of Phase 1.[28]

Neom Bay Airport edit

In June 2019, it was announced that the Neom Bay Airport would begin commercial flight traffic after the first phase of the airport was completed with a runway length of 3,757 m (12,326 ft).[29][30][31][needs update] The planned airport has been registered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) with the code NUM.[30]

Oxagon edit

Oxagon (originally named Neom Industrial City) will be a floating industrial complex in the shape of an octagon. It will be 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 city.[32] The project will focus on modern manufacturing, industrial research and development centered on expanding the Duba port.[33] Salman expects Oxagon to become "a new focal point for global trade flows" and service shipping routes through the Red Sea.[34] The plans for the complex include a desalination plant, a hydrogen plant and an oceanographic research center.[35] It will also be home to the cognitive multinational company Tonomus (originally NEOM Tech & Digital Company), which is the first subsidiary company to evolve from NEOM.[36]

On December 16, 2022, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones and Neom signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate collaboration and legislation in support of Neom's Future Factories Program.[37] As of January 2023, Neom has not provided any information regarding how the complex will remain afloat.

Trojena edit

On 3 March 2022, the Trojena project was launched, which will be the first major outdoor skiing destination in the Arabian Peninsula. It will be located about 50 kilometres (31 mi) from the Gulf of Aqaba coast in the Sarat Mountains, with elevations ranging from 1,500–2,600 metres (4,900–8,500 ft). Although it is in the desert, the site's climate is considerably cooler than is the rest of Neom's territory.[38][39][40][41][42][43] Ennismore, a lifestyle and hospitality company, was announced as the inaugural partner with its brands 25hours Hotels and Morgans Originals.[44][45] In September 2023, Zaha Hadid Architects designed a 330 m (1,080 ft) tall skyscraper for Trojena which will stand on a mountain overlooking an artificial lake. Renders of the skyscraper, which will be connected to the lakeside development by a cable car, showed a crystalline structure made of numerous columns that narrow towards the peak.[46]

Sindalah edit

In December 2022, Neom announced plans for Sindalah, a 1,100,000-cubic-yard luxury resort complex off the city coast.[47] It is planned to have an 86-berth marina and three luxury hotels, and it could accommodate as many as 2,400 visitors daily.[48][47] A nine-hole golf course overlooking the sea was constructed in 2023.

Agriculture edit

Neom plans for 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of the surrounding land to become agricultural fields and to rely heavily on genetically engineered crops.[49][50]

Utilities edit

A subsidiary, Enowa, has been founded to provide renewable energy, green hydrogen, and zero waste desalination.[51][52]

International relations edit

In March 2020, Neom signed a partnership deal as a principal partner with Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team.[53] In June 2022, Neom became the title sponsor of 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.[54] At the 2023 London ePrix, the McLaren Formula E Team and Neom developed and raced the world's first motorsport livery designed using AI.[55][56]

In July 2020, the American company Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. announced that it would build the world's largest green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia. The company will jointly own the US$5 billion project with Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power and Neom.[57] In March 2021, Neom signed a four-year global sponsorship agreement with the Asian Football Confederation.[58] In 2022, Neom hosted Extreme E's 2022 Desert X-Prix and held the naming rights to the series' Island X-Prix in Sardinia.[59][60] In May 2022, Indian conglomerate Larsen & Toubro was awarded the contract for construction of a 2,930-megawatt solar power generation plant, a 1,370-megawatt wind-power farm, a 400-megawatt battery energy storage system and a power transmission network of about 190 km.[61] In October 2022, Trojena was announced as the future host of the 2029 Asian Winter Games.[62] In June 2023, rumors emerged that Neom was in discussions with top WorldTour cycling team, Jumbo-Visma, to become the team's primary title sponsor in 2024, upon the expiration of the team's sponsorship agreement with Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo.[63]

Controversies edit

Evictions and executions edit

It is estimated that 20,000 people will be forced to relocate to accommodate the planned city.[64] The Howeitat tribe, who are native to the area, say that they are not opposed to the city but rather to the forced expulsion and subsequent violence.[65] On 13 April 2020, activist 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.[12][65] In the videos, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti said that he would defy the eviction orders, although he expected that Saudi authorities would plant weapons in his house to incriminate him.[66] He was later shot and killed by Saudi security forces, who claimed he had opened fire on them.[66] London-based human rights activist and fellow Howeitat tribe member Alya Alhwaiti disputed this version of events, stating that al-Huwaiti did not own firearms.[65] al-Huwaiti's funeral was held near the village of al-Khoraibah and was well attended despite the presence of Saudi security forces.[65] Eight cousins of al-Huwaiti have been arrested for protesting against the eviction order, but Alhwaiti has said that she and other human rights activists hoped to challenge the arrests.[65]

In June 2020, Salman signed a $1.7 million contract with American public-relations and lobbying firm Ruder Finn to counter the criticism and controversies involving the Neom city project.[67] In November 2020, British lawyers representing the Howeitat tribe urged Dominic Raab to boycott the G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia, arguing that the United Kingdom has a moral imperative to take a stand in defense of the tribe and confront Saudi Arabia over its human-rights issues.[68] In October 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court of Saudi Arabia sentenced three members of the Howeitat tribe to death for resisting displacement.[69] 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-Howaiti.[70]

2029 Asian Winter Games edit

In October 2022, Neom was announced as the host of the 2029 Asian Winter Games, a decision that received criticism concerning its adverse environmental impact.[62] Amidst increasing global-warming concerns, the project raised multiple issues ranging from the expected high temperatures in the desert land, the energy impact and detour of local water resources to the construction of artificial ski slopes from scratch. Raphael Le Magoariec, a political scientist and specialist in the geopolitics of sports in the Arabian Gulf region said that Riyadh "mainly wants to promote its city of the future."[62] International Ski and Snowboard Federation secretary general Michel Vion expressed surprise at the decision of the Olympic Council of Asia and Olympic downhill silver medalist Johan Clarey said, “it is awful for our sport."[62]

Abusive work culture edit

In 2022, former employees reported NEOM project CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr for promoting a management culture that "belittled expatriates, made unrealistic demands, and neglected discrimination in the workplace."[12][71] 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."[71] 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.[72] 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.[71]

The Saudi government refused to comment, while Neom declined to make Nasr available for answers or interview requests. However, Neom issued a written statement in defense of Nasr and the management culture at the megaproject, asserting that Neom represented "a scale and ambition the world has never seen before" and that it continued to retain and attract more talent because "employees are passionate about what they do and deeply committed to living up to, and delivering on, the Neom vision."[73] Anthony Harris, a former director of innovation at Neom's education team, accused the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of fostering a faulty workplace culture since "Nadhmi takes his cue from his boss, and everyone else at Neom takes their cue from Nadhmi."[71] At one company meeting, Nasr said on record, "I drive everybody like a slave, when they drop down dead, I celebrate. That’s how I do my projects."[71] He also 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.[71]

In late 2018, Neom's progress suffered after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.[74] Advisers to Neom, including Daniel L. Doctoroff[75] and architect Norman Foster, were reported to have distanced themselves from the project and the "toxic" Saudi crown prince.[76]

Surveillance edit

Designers of The Line announced plans to use data as a currency to manage and provide facilities such as power, waste, water, healthcare, transport and security.[77] 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 customizing every user's needs.[77]

However, Saudi Arabia's poor human-rights record[78] and use of espionage[79] and surveillance technology for spying on its citizens[80] emerged as a roadblock, according to digital rights experts. Vincent Mosco, a researcher into the social effects of technology, stated that "the surveillance concerns are justified" while further adding that "it is, in effect, a surveillance city."[77] The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology did not respond to digital rights experts and researchers' requests for comments.[77]

Other criticisms edit

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 by the Saudi government, particularly its record on LGBT rights.[81] As a result of the backlash, the sponsorship was cancelled within several hours of the announcement.[82]

Salman's vision for the city incorporates some technologies that do not currently exist, such as flying cars, robot maids, dinosaur robots, and a giant artificial moon.[83] 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."[84][85]

See also edit

References edit

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External links edit