NEOM. Is it a world-changing city or a question of rights? On January 10, 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of “The Line” in NEOM. Much speculation has raised around the city, which was first announced on October 24, 2017.

NEOM is a planned cross-border city in the Tabuk province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. NEOM will be a city with no necessity for cars and a max 20-minute commute, a city integrated with nature, a city powered by clean energy, and a city enabled by the latest technology. At this time, these plans seem unrealistic. Surprisingly enough, NEOM is proud that they have such bold plans. 

Other goals of NEOM include having zero work/stress-related diseases and a leading education system with hologram faculty. While these goals are quite admirable, another goal of NEOM is to have everything be able to be recorded. This goal can be controversial, as it is almost impossible to have a sense of privacy when everything you’re doing and saying can be recorded. 

The city is to incorporate multiple features that are not commonly seen or have never even been discovered yet, such as flying taxis, cloud seeding (a precipitation-enhancing method), robot maids, state-of-the-art medical facilities, world-class restaurants, dinosaur robots, glow-in-the-dark sand, robot martial arts, intense security, and an artificial moon. Some of these features I am not the most sold on. For instance, what is the necessity for robot martial arts? What is the purpose of tracking everyone in NEOM at all times? Do we really need an artificial moon? 

However, the actual question is if this project is too good to be true. Being dubbed as a prince’s $500 billion desert dream by the Wall Street Journal, how practical is this futuristic dream city? Well, Saudi Arabia, alone, does not have enough money to build NEOM. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has used money from abroad to fund the city’s first stages, which is quite interesting as Saudi Arabia’s reliance on foreign consultants has been a sensitive topic for the government due to a corruption crackdown in 2017, that involved a partner of one of the foreign experts Saudi Arabia turns to for help in planning, engineering, and management commonly.

Now, here comes the dark side of the project. What is to happen with everyone that used to live in the area already? Evidence has shown that the site of NEOM is not as “virgin” as they claim to be. Part of the land NEOM is on is home to the al-Huwaitat tribe. Due to the building of NEOM, around 20,000 members of the tribe will have no place to live. Based on Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, a protestor against NEOM and a member of the al-Huwaitat tribe, those who showed resistance were to be arrested. He would later be killed in a shoot-out. Dubbed as “the martyr of NEOM,” al-Huwaiti and his story spread across social media. As written by Sarah Leah Whitson and Abdullah Alaoudh, the mistreatment of the al-Huwaitat tribe shows how the “Saudi government has failed to employ even the most minimum standards on when and how states can expropriate property.”

The NEOM project has not taken into consideration the people living there originally. The members of the al-Huwaitat tribe are citizens of Saudi Arabia. However, it seems they do not matter as much compared to the future glamorous foreigners. The Saudi Arabian government has not put any effort into giving the al-Huwaitat tribe a new home, compensating the al-Huwaitat tribe for their properties, and treating them with respect. They are to comply. If not, they are to be arrested or killed. 

Alya Alhaiwaiti claimed the al-Huwaitat tribe was promised to be involved in NEOM’s development, causing the tribe to be excited. Now, the situation has become so horrid that the al-Huwaitat tribe had requested help from the UN during late September last year. Based on Al Jazeera, Rodney Dixon QC was one of the lawyers who submitted the communication. He claimed that there is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The UN has the power to change this, causing the al-Huwaitat tribe to have hope for the future. 

NEOM is a magnificent project that will get us closer to our dreams of sustainable living, but like anything that seems too good to be true, it comes with a dark side. NEOM risks the lives of tens of thousands. It is our best wishes the NEOM project amends its ways and helps the advancement of technology without harming others. Please keep in mind that this post is to inform. Thank you for reading, and stay safe!