Saudi Arabia’s modernising Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday announced plans for the biggest property investment the world has ever seen. The spectacularly ambitious vision for ‘Neom’, a 26,500 square kilometre mega-city envisioned to straddle Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan along the Red Sea coastline, was yesterday unveiled at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.
The crown prince said that the next-level property investment would be funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund, alongside a consortium of international and institutional investors. To put the scale of the envisioned city into context, Dubai is a little over 4000 square kilometres and Slovenia a little over 20,000. Neom would be larger than both combined.
The name ‘Neom’ stands for ‘new future’ and would have the intended result of diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy, which is largely reliant upon oil revenue. The initial blueprint for Neom is that it would be largely autonomous of the governments of the three countries it would lie between and have its own labour and tax laws as well as an independent judicial system.
The mega-city would also be a next-generation technology city with its infrastructure built from scratch to cater to driverless cars, drones and other robots. Perhaps ironically, given that the property investment would be largely initially funded by oil money, the crown prince’s plan also involves Neom running entirely, or almost entirely, on solar, wind and wave-powered renewable energy sources.
The Neom project will be led by Klaus Kleinfeld, a former chairman and chief executive of Arconic and Alcoa, giant U.S. engineering and metals manufacturing corporations.
Should private property investors eventually be given the chance to buy a piece of Neom, the project would likely make the boom around previous Middle East property investment hotspots such as Dubai pale into insignificance by comparison.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a moderniser who has made several public statements around his intentions to drive the evolution of Saudi Arabia from its present, based on an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam, into a nation of “moderate Islam that is open to the world and to all religions”. His stated ambition to “end extremism soon” has fuelled hope that a country whose ruling elite have often been accused of, at best, turning a blind eye to extremist organisations and, at worst, covertly funding them, may be changing its attitudes.
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