NEOM: A weird desert dream that might never come true
NEOM, the dystopic city of Saudi Arabia, has a large budget but no real goals.
Last September, Chris Hubbles Gray, an author who identifies himself as an anarchist, feminist, and revolutionary, residing in Santa Cruz, California, received an offer from Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. Gray had written extensively on cyborgs and the inevitable emergence of genetic engineering, according to a report by Bloomberg Businessweek.
Gray had never expected or received such an offer in his entire life, as he was only providing consulting services. Initially, the offer suggested a very large sum for him to research the aesthetics of basic science fiction works such as Blade Runner to be employed in the city of NEOM, MBS' personal dystopia.
Mohammed bin Salman has touted NEOM as a masterpiece that would transform the Saudi Arabian economy and act as a test for emerging technology, with a $500 billion initial budget.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the inside of NEOM has elevators that seem to soar through the air, an urban spaceport, structures shaped like a double helix, long falcon wings, and a blooming flower.
The chosen area in Saudi Arabia's extreme northwest, which runs from the sun-baked Red Sea coast to the rocky hilly Badlands, is known for its hot summers and lack of fresh water. However, according to MBS and his advisors, it will soon become home to millions of people who will live in harmony with the environment, relying on desalination plants and a fully renewable electrical grid.
Employees will profit from an advanced infrastructure and regulatory framework that are specifically created to encourage novel ideas, so long as those ideas do not involve contesting bin Salman's authority. The metropolis of NEOM appears to be one of MBS' top goals, and the Saudi state invests a significant amount of money in making it a reality.
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Even for a near-absolute monarch with access to a $620 billion sovereign wealth fund, bringing NEOM out of the realm of science fiction proved to be a difficult task five years after its inception, the report said.
The project has experienced setbacks, as per the report, many of which are brought on by the challenge of implementing MBS' constantly changing ideas and informing him—he who oversaw the imprisonment of several members of his own family—that his wishes could not be fulfilled, according to more than 25 current and former employees interviewed for this story and 2,700 pages of internal documents.
Despite this, the chaotic course of NEOM thus far implies that MBS' urban ideal and his more extensive goals for economic reform may not materialize.
NEOM offers the notion of an authoritarian regime that attracts international capital and has a certain allure for the Davos elite. For instance, among the foreign investors who supported the initiative were Steve Schwarzman and Masayoshi Son, the CEOs of Blackstone Inc. and SoftBank Group Corp.
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