What is Neom and The Line? Saudi Arabia’s Project and These Ads Explained | SBS News

It looks like something out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, but it’s promised to be real one day, and there’s a reason you might see ads all over the place.

Saudi Arabia has been promoting its ambitious Neom project specifically to Australians, and in particular its latest project; a narrow desert oasis called The Line. The ads have appeared on Twitter – where the @NEOM account has one million followers – and LinkedIn.

Marketing expert Dr Andrew Hughes of the Australian National University said it was difficult to estimate the cost of the ads because Twitter is very secretive about pricing, but believes the company behind them could pay about $100,000 a day to promote his project in Australia.
They may potentially be targeted to appear in internet users’ feeds when they have searched for terms such as “Saudi Arabia” in recent months, he said, in connection with major news such as the but it is unlikely to be specifically connected.

What exactly is Neom?

The Neom Project was founded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, to be a “vision of what a new future might look like”. His name is a mixture of the word neowhich means “new” in Greek, merged with the first letter of the Arabic word for future, mustaqbalwhich is also the first letter of the Crown Prince’s name.

MBS says Neom will have a capacity of 450,000 people by 2026 and nine million by 2045.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to be seen as a modernizer. Source: AAP

Physically, it will be located in an area extending up to 26,500 km in Saudi Arabia and will be divided into three regions, including Oxagon, a hub for industries and technology, and the tourist town of Trojena, located in a mountainous region where people can go skiing, attend yoga retreats and music festivals.

Earlier this year, Neom unveiled its extravagant vision for the third region, The Line, a vertical city enclosed within mirrored walls that promises to redefine city living. Its designers say the city will run on 100% renewable energy, with no streets or cars. The vertical design keeps urban sprawl to a minimum, occupying a smaller amount of land than one would normally expect for a megacity.

Described as “a civilizational revolution that puts people first”, the city will stretch for 170 km and promises residents to be able to travel by public transport from one end of the city to the other in 20 minutes . All amenities would be available within a five minute walk.

A futuristic cityscape shows people enjoying a picnic in lush gardens and swimming in an outdoor pool

Neom released images of its futuristic city The Line in July. Source: Provided / neom.com

The images show conceptual illustrations of a lush city with green spaces and rooftop gardens. Advanced ventilation and the use of solar, wind and hydrogen power will also ensure “clean, fresh air for its inhabitants”, according to marketing materials. It’s a bright, modern take on the kingdom and it’s exactly the impression of Saudi Arabia that the crown prince wants the world to see.

Why is Neom advertised in Australia?

Saudi Arabia tried to revive interest in Neom in Australia in July. Twitter users clicking “Why am I seeing this ad?” receive an explanation that Neom “wants to reach the people who are here: Australia”.

Asked why the kingdom would want to announce the project here, Middle East expert Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute said Saudi Arabia likely needs foreign Western investment. This could include attracting funding and partnerships with Australian companies, particularly those with niche capabilities, he said.

Mr Shanahan said an Australian legal expert, as well as an Australian distribution company, were already working with Neom. Last year, the Export Council of Australia also boosted “the abundance of opportunities for Australian exporters, particularly in the infrastructure, mining, agribusiness and education sectors” in Saudi Arabia. during the deployment of its Vision 2030 plan.

“They can’t do it alone, technically or even financially,” Shanahan said of the Neom project.

Divers in the waters surrounding a futuristic city.

The Line by Neom offers an “unprecedented urban living experience”. Source: Provided / neom.com

“You need huge amounts of foreign investment to achieve that, or even a lot of that.

“So you have to present yourself as the type of company that people will want to invest funds in and not as some kind of backward society where people don’t want to invest.”
Foreign investors became hard to find after 2018 because people did not want to be associated with the regime, he said.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has concluded that MBS ordered Mr Khashoggi’s assassination, contradicting claims by the Saudi government that he was not involved in the murder.

You need to present yourself as the kind of company people will want to invest funds in

Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute

“This whole Khashoggi thing was part of the reason why some foreign investors are going to be and will continue to be worried about being associated with investments in Saudi Arabia, as long as there are these human rights issues.” , Mr. Shanahan said.

Why is Saudi Arabia doing this?

After years of ostracism by the international community after the death of Mr. Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia seems to be making a comeback.

The Neom project is part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to rebuild the economy, make it less dependent on oil and attract foreign investors and tourists. It was launched in 2017, about a year before Mr Khashoggi died, but lost much of its momentum amid controversy.

Jamal Khashoggi standing inside

Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Source: press association

Mr Shanahan said the kingdom needed to rehabilitate its image to keep projects like Neom on track. He said that launching events like the appeared to be an attempt to “sportswash” allegations of human rights abuses in the kingdom.

The golf tournament is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, chaired by the crown prince, and has come under fire for using the sport as a means of trying to change the kingdom’s reputation. Saudi Arabia also hosted a Formula 1 event earlier this year.
“The sports washing is part of the larger investment required and the image enhancement program that Saudi Arabia needs to make these things [like Neom] even partially realizable.”
Saudi Arabia also needs to diversify. The kingdom depends on revenue from the sale of its oil and gas, but this will become increasingly unsustainable as action on climate change intensifies and resources dry up.

“The whole Saudi social contract had been ‘don’t worry about political rights, because you’re taken care of economically.’ , Mr. Shanahan said. said.

Neom could also play a role in its tourism industry as Saudi Arabia moves towards a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle brand. Neom’s website notes that the project is located a six-hour flight from 40% of the globe.
“It’s more than a vanity project, [MBS] wants to be seen as the great modernizer,” Shanahan said.
It also helps MBS appeal to his support base among the kingdom’s youth who are already benefiting from his social reforms.

“At the same time, he is completely ruthless when it comes to cutting at the knees, any criticism of his actions, any potential rivals…and hitting hard on any public criticism of him,” Mr Shanahan said.

Will it work?

There is skepticism as to whether the crown prince’s vision for Neom is achievable.
“It’s not technically feasible right now. Will it be technically feasible in our lifetime? From what I’ve seen, it would push the envelope,” Shanahan said.
Mr Shanahan said that traditionally people were wary of announcements made in Saudi Arabia because “the announcement was the thing and what actually happened after the announcement could be entirely different”.
But he noted that MBS had made substantial social reforms that had only been talked about before, so it would be interesting to see if he would be able to force his vision of Neom as well.
“Everyone reserves their views on Neom and The Line…work is definitely being done on Neom, but let’s wait a few years on the trail to actually see what happens.
Whether built or not, Dr Hughes says Neom creates an image of Saudi Arabia as it wants to be seen: modern and innovative. The kingdom has been at the forefront of its marketing for a long time, he says, promoting its internet speeds as among the fastest in the world, as well as its demands for social reform, including allowing women to work, drive and leave the country. without the permission of a male guardian. It is also very proud of its tertiary sector.

“I think they’re trying, in a way, to not only build their brand, but to make amends for past wrongdoings…and one of the ways of doing that is through these things like these big developments. , you’re proving you’re modern,” said Dr Hughes.

A profile in The Atlantic earlier this year said the crown prince wanted to turn “one of the strangest countries in the world into a place that could plausibly be called normal”.

Dr Hughes said Saudi Arabia may have seen the UAE’s success in marketing Dubai to the rest of the world as a destination city or convenient stopover location. Through Neom and The Line, the Crown Prince hopes the world will no longer see Saudi Arabia as a conservative, male-dominated nation where homosexuality is still punished and women are repressed.

Neom’s futuristic cityscape is an alternative take on how the kingdom sees itself and its future.
“That image, they want to be the aspiration that you see when you go there, but also that you now have in mind of Saudi Arabia,” Dr Hughes said.
“You can change the country mark using images like this.”
SBS News contacted the Saudi consulate in Sydney for comment, but did not receive a response.

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