Being sold in the media as a city that is being built with concerns to nature, humans, sustainability, and a better future, Saudi and its government still stands being desecrated because of its NEOM project’s dark history. Expecting to cater 450,000 people by 2026 and 2 million people by 2030, NEOM is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ambitious attempt to create a “new world” that is going to offer and show “solution” to civilization’s existential problems, with the vision of “reform and economic diversity” for the kingdom.
Being advertised as an “eco city” while at the same time projected to be a large “smart city”, NEOM is estimated to cost $500 billion and one of its features is called THE LINE, a so-called revolutionary futuristic city but without a car and which will be “powered entirely on clean energy, having zero of carbon emissions, and will be run by artificial intelligence”.
Recently, Saudi announced that it has “secured $5.60 billion (21 billion riyals) in financing and finalized contracts to develop the first phase of housing expansion for its workforce”. It will mainly be funded by Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, it is a “26,500-square-km high-tech development on the Red Sea with several zones, including industrial and logistics areas”, according to reports.
This megaproject, however, is now being heavily criticized by different experts as reports of human rights violations, community displacement, and even inappropriate punishment through death sentences are becoming disturbing trends in the mainstream news. These unjustifiable actions by the Saudi government, especially against those who speak against NEOM, are keeping Saudi’s leader and his supporters entangled in controversy. As reported recently by DW:
“According to a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) people from the Howeitat tribe who live in the region earmarked for the city have been displaced and their homes demolished without adequate compensation. What is more, one Howeitat man has been killed and the death sentences of three further tribe members have been confirmed, while three more have been handed 50-year jail sentences on terrorism charges.”
According to human rights groups, the trials conducted against the tribal people are reported to have happened behind closed doors. As per DW report, one director of human rights organization in Middle East named Jeed Basyouni commented that NEOM symbolizes MBS’ repressive rule over the people of Saudi Arabia, especially with regards to the use of rigid mechanisms such as surveillance and monitoring. As reported by Business Insider in March of this year:
“It appeared to be the beginning of a fruitful partnership for Crown Prince Mohammed. In Xi, experts say, he found a leader who shares his conviction that technology can enable them to expand their economies while relinquishing none
of their authoritarian control.”
In 2018, the US State Department accused MBS’ government of murdering a dissident named Jamal Khashoggi. According to reports, MBS monitors his critics using highly enhanced technological tools and systems. MBS was said to be covertly working “with companies that store huge amount of computer data”. Saudi, according to the same report, has already signed contracts with the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei for NEOM. As the Insider report continues:
“The Saudi government used the Israeli spyware Pegasus to monitor critics, and a Saudi agent infiltrated Twitter to steal the personal data of users who used the platform to criticize the Saudi government.
The Saudi government has recently launched a brutal crackdown on people criticizing the government online that has been denounced by human rights groups.”
Another activist named Marwa Fatafta, a policy manager at a Berlin-based digital rights organization also commented about surveillance as one of the main purposes for Saudi’s mega urban digitization. According to her:
“They’re being marketed as ‘eco cities’ or ‘smart cities,’ we call them surveillance cities because essentially, they’re built on an architecture that is fueled by people’s personal data, and in a country like Saudi Arabia where there is no data protection or safeguards, no oversight, no accountability, no transparency, no separations of powers, and the fact that MBS is actually ruling the security agencies. It is a scary idea.”
Meanwhile, the DW report goes on to state that anyone who disagrees with MBS will probably end up in prison for years or even be punished with death, including peaceful protesters and social media critics. Quoting the report from Amnesty International, the author wrote:
“Neom is not the only place in Saudi Arabia where people have been forcibly displaced. From January to October 2022, authorities in the port city of Jeddah had many houses demolished to implement urban development plans. In the process, thousands of people became victims of unlawful forced evictions, including foreign nationals…”
Read the whole ALQST report here:
- Featured image: https://www.alqst.org/en/post/death-sentences-for-men-who-refused-to-make-way-for-neom