Saudi Arabia is looking toward a post-oil future by sinking some US$500 billion into a massive, ultra-futuristic megacity project it calls Neom (or Neo-Mostaqbal; new future). Saudi Crown Prince Mohhamed bin Salman announced the giant project on Tuesday, a brand new city on the intersection of three countries, where “there is no room for old thinking.”
This bold new vision comes with a startling and unequivocal message from Saudi Arabia’s next king to its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics: “We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives, wasting time dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.”
Neom represents a radical shift in thinking. This giant city will be built to straddle the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, with a total area around 26,500 square kilometres on the East side of the Gulf of Aqaba. The current project map, mind you, shows an area entirely within the Saudi Arabian border. For it to straddle borders, it’ll need to include both sides of the gulf – and it’s worth noting that Israel owns a tiny slice of that waterfront too, home to the resort town and sea port of Eilat.
The Neom area is currently almost entirely barren desert, although some 10 degrees cooler than the average Gulf state city, with 460 kilometres of Red Sea coastline (if both sides of the gulf are counted), numerous islands, and a 2500-metre tall mountain range for scenic charm. An airport built here would be less than 8 hours flight for some 70 percent of the world’s population.