Neom: Why Saudi Arabia’s smart city is under fire

Key points
  • Neom is considered the brainchild of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.
  • MBS claims Neom will be able to accommodate 450,000 people by 2026 and nine million people by 2045.
  • Critics say human rights are being violated.
It is presented as a “civilizational revolution that puts man first.”
But Saudi Arabia is facing accusations that the people who were displaced because of its ambitious Neom project were not only the last ones, they also face the death penalty.
Said to be the brainchild of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Neom is a futuristic metropolis that is planned to be built in the northwest of Saudi Arabia.
It will be made up of three regions, including The Line, a “smart city” enclosed in mirrored walls that the designers say will run on 100% renewable energy, with no streets or cars.
The line, described as a “civilizational revolution that puts people first,” will stretch for 170 kilometers and promise residents that they can travel by public transport from one end of the city to the other in 20 minutes. All amenities will be available within a five minute walk.

MBS claims Neom will be able to accommodate 450,000 people by 2026 and nine million people by 2045.

Human rights groups say that some members of the Khuweitat tribe were forcibly evicted and that a number of members of the tribe who opposed the eviction were killed.
SBS News contacted Neom and the Saudi Arabian embassy in Australia for comment and received no response.

Ali Shihabi, a member of the Advisory Board of the project, announced this. The keeper that displaced tribal members would be compensated, adding: “The practice in Saudi Arabia is that people have to accept it, and they usually do because the government has a tradition of compensating generously.”

Statements about shootings and executions

Three members of the Khuweitat tribe were sentenced to death last year for resisting a 2020 eviction, according to the Saudi Arabia-focused human rights organization ALQST.
The NGO reports that the trio – Shadli, Ibrahim and Ataullah al-Khuwaiti – were arrested as a result of their “peaceful resistance” to the forced eviction and displacement of residents as part of the government’s Neom project.
The group claims that their case was heard by the Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court, which was set up to deal with terrorism cases.

ALQST Events Chief Abdullah Aljurayvi said the verdicts were “shocking” and tribal members were “legitimately protesting the forced eviction from their homes.”

The futuristic cityscape features people enjoying a picnic in the lush gardens and taking a dip in the outdoor pool.

An artist’s idea of ​​what those behind the Neom project propose living at The Line would look like. Source: Supplied /

Transparency and political suppression

Ben Rich, senior lecturer in international relations and history at Curtin University, said Saudi Arabia’s courts exist to give “the illusion of due process”, adding that the number of executions in the country has “surged” in recent years and therefore there has been a political crackdown. .
“It’s not just about Neom, it’s about all kinds of political activists and people that the government labels as terrorists,” he said.
Separately, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the use of digital technology to monitor future residents of the Line.
Neom’s head of technology is reported to have said that while smart cities currently use about one percent of the available data, Neom was expected to use 90 percent of “community information.”

Saudi Arabia has been accused in the past of monitoring dissidents’ mobile phones with malware.

Influence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Mr. Rich said that much of the increase in repression in Saudi society happened at the same time as MBS came to power.

His rise began in 2015 when he was appointed the country’s defense minister after his father became king.

King Salman made changes to the succession process by allowing his son to rise up the line of succession to become Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister.
In recent years, he has been portrayed as the de facto ruler of the country.
“The Saudis have always ruled through authoritarianism, but this is what many scholars in the region … describe as soft authoritarianism,” Rich said.

“The Crown in Saudi Arabia has historically been less of a tyrannical despot than a case where they ruled around themselves in a kind of council of elites.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Neom is part of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for the future of the country. Source: Getty / Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“However, in 2015, a new prince emerged and he immediately began to really crack down on any political views that don’t even necessarily contradict him, but are simply an alternative voice or vision.”

By doing this, he made changes to society, such as allowing women to drive cars and open their eyes if they wanted to.
“But at the same time he was doing that, he was also jailing women, political dissidents, whose interests you think overlap in some way,” Rich said.
“It just escalated into this strange paradoxical set of policies.

“He’s trying to present the kingdom as a kind of liberalization, openness, giving more freedom to the citizens, but on the other hand, anyone who has historically campaigned for it is seen as a threat and dealt with, in extremely overwhelming and often violent terms.”