Saudi Arabia's futuristic $500 billion Neom megacity just got a lot smaller ... for now, report says - 3 minutes read

Saudi Arabia has cut estimates for the number of people living in its Neom megacity project by 2030.

Its government had previously said it wanted 1.5 million residents to be moved into the project's futuristic city, "The Line," by then, Bloomberg reported.

But that number is now likely to be fewer than 300,000, the Bloomberg report said, citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Billed as a "cognitive city," The Line is set to stretch over 170 kilometers (roughly 105 miles) of desert to the Red Sea in the northwest of Saudi Arabia.

But just 2.4 kilometers (around 1.5 miles) of that is expected to be completed by 2030, the person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

The $500 billion Neom megacity, which will cover 26,500 square kilometers (just over 10,200 square miles), is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 plan to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil and pivot toward tech and innovation.

It is set to feature glow-in-the-dark beaches, ski slopes, an artificial moon, robot butlers, and flying taxis, according to glossy brochures and public statements by its planners.

But human rights activists have raised fears that the grandiose plans reflect not just Crown Prince Mohammed's ambition but his refusal to tolerate challenges to his power.

Experts told Business Insider in 2023 that the city could be fitted with Chinese technology to gather data on residents as part of a sweeping surveillance program. Others raised concern about the harsh punishments meted out to Saudi critics of the project, with Business Insider reporting last year that a woman was jailed for 30 years for criticizing the plans on social media.

Neom is just one of several "gigaprojects" underway as part of this plan.

The country's Public Investment Fund (PIF), its sovereign wealth fund, has long shouldered the large financial burden imposed by such projects — which are estimated to run at tens of billions of dollars each.

But the PIF said in January that its cash as of September had dropped to the lowest level since December 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported.

And that has forced the government to turn to a tactic it hasn't used for a long time to boost its funds — borrowing, per the report. It has also been reported that the kingdom plans to sell more shares in the state oil company Saudi Aramco this year.

The Saudi ruler has used a range of tactics to rebuild his global influence and reshape Saudi Arabia since the 2018 murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, which almost resulted in him being made a pariah on the world stage.

Alongside economic megaprojects, Saudi Arabia has also thrown money into other areas, such as sports.

The Guardian estimated in July 2023 that the kingdom had spent at least $6.3 billion on sports deals since 2021, from funding a giant merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to prying a host of global soccer stars away from European leagues on huge salaries.

"It's mind-boggling the amount of stuff that's trying to be done here," Tim Callen, a visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute think tank, told The Journal.

Source: Business Insider

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