Saudi Arabia has been promoting its ambitious Neom project specifically to people in Australia, and in particular, its latest project; a narrow desert oasis called The Line. The ads have been popping up on Twitter – where the @NEOM account has one million followers – and LinkedIn.
What exactly is Neom?
MBS claims Neom will have capacity for 450,000 people by 2026 and nine million by 2045.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to be seen as a moderniser. Source: AAP
Physically, it will be located in an area spanning up to 26,500km in Saudi Arabia, and will be split into three regions, including Oxagon, a hub for industries and technology, and the tourist-focused Trojena, located in a mountainous region where people will be able to go skiing, attend yoga retreats and music festivals.
Described as “a civilisational revolution that puts humans first”, the city will extend for 170km and promises residents they’ll be able to travel on public transport from one end of the city to the other in 20 minutes. All amenities would be available within a five-minute walk.
Neom released images of its futuristic city The Line in July. Source: Supplied / neom.com
Footage shows concept artwork of a lush city with green spaces and rooftop gardens. Advanced ventilation and the use of solar, wind and hydrogen power will also ensure “clean and fresh air for its inhabitants” the marketing materials claim. It’s a shiny, modern vision for the kingdom and that’s exactly the impression of Saudi Arabia that the Crown Prince wants the world to see.
Why is Neom being advertised in Australia?
Asked why the kingdom would want to advertise the project here, Middle East expert Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute said Saudi Arabia probably needed Western foreign investment. This could include attracting funding and partnerships with Australian companies, especially those with niche capabilities, he said.
“They can’t do it on their own, either technically or even financially,” Mr Shanahan said of the Neom project.
Neom’s The Line provides an ‘unprecedented urban living experience’. Source: Supplied / neom.com
“You need enormous amounts of foreign investment to realise this, or even a large part of this.
America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded MBS ordered the assassination of Mr Khashoggi, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing.
You need to portray yourself as the kind of society that people are going to want to invest funds in
Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute
“That whole Khashoggi thing was part of the reason why some foreign investors are going to be and continue to be, concerned about being associated with investing in Saudi Arabia, as long as there are these human rights concerns,” Mr Shanahan said.
Why is Saudi Arabia doing this?
The Neom project forms part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to overhaul the economy, make it less dependent on oil and attract foreign investors and tourists. It was launched in 2017, about a year before Mr Khashoggi’s death but lost much of its momentum amid the controversy.
Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Source: Press Association
Mr Shanahan said the kingdom needed to rehabilitate its image to keep projects like Neom on track. He said the launch of events like the , appeared to be an attempt at ‘sportswashing’ allegations of human rights abuses in the kingdom.
“The whole Saudi social contract had been ‘don’t worry about political rights, because you’re looked after economically’. That’s a completely unsustainable model. So economically, Neom, and a futuristic city is part of that diversification,” Mr Shanahan said.
“At the same time he’s completely ruthless about cutting off at the knees, any critics of his actions, any potential rivals … and also hitting down hard on any public criticism of him,” Mr Shanahan said.
Will it work?
“I think they’re trying to, in a way, not just build their brand but also repair past misdemeanours … and one of the ways you do that, is through these things like these big developments, you prove you’re modern,” Dr Hughes said.
Dr Hughes said Saudi Arabia may have seen the United Arab Emirates’ success in marketing Dubai to the rest of the world as a destination city or convenient stopover location. Through Neom and The Line, the Crown Prince hopes the world will no longer see Saudi Arabia as a conservative male-dominated nation where homosexuality is still punished and women are repressed.
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