Everything to know about Neom, the futuristic city project in Saudi Arabia critics fear could be a surveillance dystopia


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– Saudi Arabia is building a futuristic mega-city called Neom deep in a desert bordering the Red Sea.

– The state has pledged at least $500 billion to make it happen, and is soliciting further investment.

– But critics fear that sophisticated technology could be used to surveil residents.

Saudi Arabia hopes to build a futuristic mega-city 33 times the size of New York City from scratch.

Saudi officials describe it as “the world’s most ambitious project.”

It’s called Neom, a planned 16-borough city on the Red Sea coast in the northwestern Saudi province of Tabuk.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

told Bloomberg in October 2018 that Neom would be completed in 2025, and that phase one was nearly done.

As of 2023, that timeline looked unlikely —

Neom’s official website promised that some people would live there from 2024, but said it would be 2030 before it was home to a million people, and 2045 before its target of nine million.

As the plans developed, Crown Prince Mohammed’s decision to form a closer alliance with China’s President Xi Jinping has some analysts concerned.

As Insider reported, they believe that the Saudis could be preparing to use sophisticated Chinese surveillance technology to tightly monitor and control Neom’s residents.

Here is a rundown of the project so far:

Neom is a portmanteau of the Greek word neos, meaning “new,” and mustaqbal, the Arabic word for “future.”


Business Insider

It will cover 10,230 square miles, and cost Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund at least $500 billion — plus millions in foreign investment if it can get it.


Business Insider

Neom is part of Vision 2030: an ambitious plan to revolutionize Saudi society, reduce dependence on oil, and make the country a technology hub.


Vision 2030

In 2017, Neom hired three of the world’s largest consultancy firms — McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting, and Oliver Wyman — to advise.Here’s what they came up with.


The Wall Street Journal

Neom is supposed to draw on “cloud seeding” technology to make artificial clouds which will produce more rainfall than naturally possible in the desert.


The Wall Street Journal

Neom will also have the “leading education system on the planet,” with classes taught by holographic teachers, officials say.


The Wall Street Journal

Another idea is a ‘Jurassic Park’-like island for tourists with robotic dinosaurs.


The Wall Street Journal

At night Neom is supposed to be illuminated by a giant artificial moon.


The Wall Street Journal

People will get about using flying taxis, Saudi officials say.

Neom is working on the notion that, in the future, driving cars will just be for fun, and no longer a method of transportation.

So people might drive a Ferrari to the coast, but not drive themselves to work.


The Wall Street Journal

Neom residents will — according to the plan — be able to choose from more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than in any other city.

In order for that to happen, it would not only need the restaurants to come, but for Michelin’s inspectors to accredit them.

As of 2022, the only permanent Michelin-starred establishments in the Middle East were in Dubai.


The Wall Street Journal, CNN

The Red Sea coastline will be altered, according to the plans, with glow-in-the-dark sand added to its beaches.


The Wall Street Journal

Construction work has already started on Neom Bay, phase one of the mega-city.

Neom Bay is due to become a residential area with “white beaches, a mild climate and an attractive investment environment,”

the Saudi Press Agency was reported to have said.

Its completion date was set for some time in 2020 per the announcement, made before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Then end of 2020 came without evidence of completion, though

daily flights take place as of 2023 at the Neom Bay airport.

Neom used a photo of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay in their marketing materials, suggesting they’ll likely draw inspiration from the Southeast Asian city.

There were plans for Neom to become an e-gaming hub, but they appear to have been put on hold

Two e-gaming giants in 2020 announced plans to partner with Neom.But following criticism for getting involved with a country with a patchy human rights record one of the companies, Riot’s LEC, withdrew, esports.net reported



Saudi Arabia in 2021 announced plans for ‘The Line,’ a 100 mile long ‘vertical skyscraper’ that it wants to house millions of people.

“The Line” is the hyper-ambitious centerpiece of the project.

According to planners, it’ll take the form of two skyscraper-sized buildings laid out vertically, encased in reflective glass, cutting through the desert and mountains.

They say The Line will feature a regulated temperate microclimate, lush hanging gardens, and a high speed train service to connect both ends in 20 minutes.

It’ll be carbon neutral, and planners say it’ll eventually be home to 9 million people.

But critics have questioned whether a project on such a grandiose scale can be completed as promised.

There are plans for a giant floating port called The Oxagon covering around 97 square miles

The Oxagon will be the industrial and research hub of the city, say planners, as well as containing a port that the crown prince says will be “a new focal point for global trade flows.”

According to Dezeen magazine, it’ll be arranged around water filled squares connected by canals and will feature tech companies and an oceanographic research center.


Neom, Dezeen.

The future of the project was put at risk, however.After the murder of Saudi-US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly said: “No one will invest for years.”


Financial Times

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to form closer ties with China’s Xi Jinping has disturbing implications for Neom, say analysts

At a summit in

Saudi Arabia in December 2022 the leaders pledged cooperate on a sweeping range of issues, including cyber security.

Sophisticated Chinese surveillance technology could be used to surveil residents in Neom.

China is offering the technology is being offered to Gulf states, as part of a project to create “smart cities” regulated by user data,

analysts told Insider.

But the data could be used to track residents, or access their communications.

[Features](/category/features) [Saudi Arabia](/category/saudi-arabia) [NEOM](/category/neom).

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