News Updates

Saudi king to relinquish throne to son within next two nights: Report

Saudi King Salman reportedly plans to relinquish power in favor of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently launched a self-promotion campaign under the cover of tackling high-level corruption.

Rai al-Youm, an Arab world digital news and opinion website, reported on Wednesday that the king will announce the decision within “the next two nights.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Saudi-owned television news channel Al-Arabiya had announced the news in a Twitter message, but it retracted the post hours later.

Political analysts say the regime in Riyadh is apparently seeking to test the waters and examine public reaction regarding a surprise shift in power.

Since the establishment of Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy in 1932, the system has been effectively known as a hereditary dictatorship and monarchy.

The expected development marks a change in the order of succession in Saudi Arabia from lateral lines of elderly brothers to a vertical order under which the king hands power to his favorite son.

PressTV-Saudi Arabia’s game of thrones
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched high-drama social and economic projects. What does he really have his eyes on?

Speculation of King Salman’s possible abdication surfaced in late June, when the monarch deposed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the heir to the throne and offered the position to his favorite son, in what analysts described as a “political earthquake” back then.

On the same day that King Salman replaced bin Nayef with his own son, a well-known Saudi online activist, known on Twitter as @mujtahidd, predicted that King Salman would renounce power in favor of his son.

The whistleblower has already leaked documents indicating high-level corruption inside the Saudi royal family.

In early September, the website of Lebanon’s al-Manar channel reported that the 32-year-old bin Salman had formed a team of aides to prepare the kingdom for celebrating his succession to power as the new king.

The paper quoted sources close to the royal family as saying that King Salman was due to step down over his health issues. The sources then noted that bin Salman had ordered the kingdom’s security officials to increase supervision of royal figures to prevent any coup.

Since replacing his cousin bin Nayef in June, bin Salman has embarked on a campaign to consolidate power, taking on rivals within the royal family.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (R), then Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (C), and then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) attend a swearing-in ceremony for new cabinet ministers and ambassadors in Riyadh on April 24, 2017. (Photo by the Saudi Royal Palace)

Late Saturday, bin Salman sent shockwaves through the kingdom when he fired senior ministers and had dozens of the country’s richest men detained, ostensibly on the grounds of fighting corruption. The arrests included his cousin and one of the world’s richest men, al-Waleed bin Talal.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday voiced serious concern over the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia.

Analysts say the targeting of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing elite represents a shift from family rule to a more authoritarian style of governance based on a single man.

Riyadh has taken on more aggressive policies since bin Salman’s elevation to the position of defense minister and deputy crown prince in 2015, and later to the position of crown prince.

The kingdom is currently struggling with plummeting oil prices. The Al Saud regime also faces criticism over its deadly military campaign against neighboring Yemen, which it launched on March 26, 2015.

Many also see Riyadh’s policies as a major cause of the crises unfolding in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

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Saudi Arabia’s Corruption Crackdown Could Be Hugely Profitable for the Kingdom

The Saudi administration’s crackdown on alleged corruption is about to include a massive asset seizure, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying the government was planning to seize up to $800 billion in cash and assets, on the basis that they were amassed through corruption.

The kingdom’s reform-minded young crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud, has in recent days moved to consolidate his power by taking on a variety of potential threats. Having already cracked down on critics, including those in the clergy and media, in September, the government last weekend arrested some of Saudia Arabia’s richest men, including the prominent investor Alwaleed bin Talal.

Prince Mohammed’s power play comes with the endorsement of U.S. president Donald Trump, which many have theorized is tied to the potential flotation of Saudi oil giant Aramco on the New York Stock Exchange—an uncertain outcome, given the transparency requirements that would accompany it.

Apart from helping the crown prince secure the throne, the crackdown could also bring a much-needed financial boost to the state coffers, which have been hit by low oil prices.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority said Tuesday that it had frozen some people’s bank accounts, while their corruption charges run their course. The WSJ reported that the government may be able to reclaim as much as $800 billion in assets.

However, a lot of those assets are abroad, which will make it more difficult to pull them in. The government has banned many people, including royals, from leaving Saudi Arabia for the moment.

Apart from Prince Alwaleed, an investor in the likes of Apple (AAPL, -0.22%) and Twitter (TWTR, +1.58%), the crackdown also nabbed Bakr bin Ladin, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin construction group (and the half-brother of Osama bin Laden). According to the WSJ, he faces bribery charges connected with his firm’s contract for expanding the grounds of the Great Mosque in Mecca.


Saudi crown prince anti-corruption group arrests 11 princes including billionaire bin Talal

A new Saudi anti-corruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has detained 11 princes, four sitting ministers and dozens of former ministers.

The committee has announced fresh investigations into the 2009 Jeddah floods and the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, which emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

According to media reports, the committee has been given the authority to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, disclose and freeze accounts and portfolios, track funds and assets of individuals involved in corruption.

The Saudi Economy and Planning Minister, Adel bin Mohammed Faqih and National Guard Minister, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz were also sacked.

Eleven princes including prominent billionaire investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and dozens of current and former ministers were arrested in Saudi Arabia after the formation of an anti-corruption committee by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

The three ousted ministers were replaced, with Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf Al Muqren becoming National Guard minister, Mohammed bin Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri becoming the Economy and Planning Minister, and Vice Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghifaili taking on the role of Naval Forces Commander.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is seen leaving the High Court in London in this July 2, 2013 file photograph. A billionaire Saudi prince lost a London court battle on July 31, 2013 when a judge ordered that he should pay a $10-million commission linked to the sale of a luxurious private jet to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The High Court ruling is an embarrassment for Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who gave evidence in person for two days at the trial earlier this month.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal
According to reports, Prince Alwaleed’s arrest is expected to send shockwaves both through the Kingdom and the world’s major financial centers as he controls the investment firm Kingdom Holding and is one of the world’s richest men, with major stakes in News Corp, Citigroup, Twitter and many other well-known companies.
The prince also controls satellite television networks watched across the Arab world.

The arrests are being viewed as the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman.


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Offers its Condolences to the New York City Victims

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, sent an official cable extending condolences to President Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, for the truck-ramming attack in New York City, which resulted in fatalities and injuries.

In addition to extending its sympathies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns the attacks and reinforces its domestic, regional, as well as, international commitment to combating extremism in all forms and will continue its long-standing security cooperation with the United States of America to achieve these joint aims. His Royal Highness Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States of America, reiterated the Kingdom’s vigilance: “Our condolences to the City of New York and the families impacted by this violent act of terrorism. Extremism in all forms must be stopped. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues its commitment to do so by working with: international organizations, such as the United Nations, in establishing the Counter Terrorism Center; bilaterally, the United States of America in co-chairing the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, among others; and, in the Kingdom with the establishment of Etidal, the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.”


Saudi futuristic vision dazzles corporate honchos

Riyadh — From a holographic lion to talking robots and flying taxis, Saudi Arabia has dazzled investors with plans for hi-tech “giga projects”.

The Kingdom has revealed plans to build NEOM, a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley, in addition to an entertainment city in Riyadh that would rival Walt Disney and the Red Sea project, a reef-fringed resort destination.

The blueprints for the projects were on display to 3,500 corporate honchos at this week’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — that sought to project the Kingdom as a business destination.

The projects, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, are the brainchild of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier, minister of defense, chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), who is the chief architect of the sweeping Vision 2030 reform program.

To demonstrate the change he envisions, he held up an old Nokia in one hand and a stylish iPhone in the other at the FII summit, a comparison that resonates with gadget-obsessed millennials.

The $500-billion NEOM, which means “new future” in a combination of English and Arabic abbreviations, will be a biotech and digital hub spread over 26,500 square kilometers (10,000 sq miles) in an area facing Jordan and Egypt.

In a slick promotional video featuring the project, women were seen jogging and working alongside men in laboratories. Its service economy will be staffed by robots, it said. And in a move to display that ambition, Saudi Arabia this week granted citizenship to a robot named Sophia.

The Crown Prince said the regulatory framework for NEOM will be designed by the private sector to encourage investment.

The Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which aims to double its assets to nearly $400 billion by 2020, will be the primary investor in the projects.

Some private sector beneficiaries of PIF, such as Richard Branson have also pledged to invest.

“For the first time Saudi Arabia is looking not at what’s in the ground but outside,” said Brian Ackerman, an American landscape architect and designer who attended FII.

“It’s not the mountains, oceans, driverless cars and robots that’s inspiring, it’s the vision. The leadership is saying: ‘Come on, jump on this train.’ That’s step one.” — AFP


China Is Eyeballing A Major Strategic Investment In Saudi Arabia’s Oil

Since the election of Donald Trump, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States have seemingly returned to their halcyon days. Saudi officials have been energized by Trump’s desire to roll back Iranian influence and his support for Saudi economic reforms, and they are enthusiastic about the two countries’ newfound unity of purpose.
But Saudi Arabia is not just being courted by the Trump administration. Without the pomp and circumstance of the Riyadh summit, where Trump addressed representatives from across the Muslim world earlier this year, the Chinese government is taking quiet steps to bring Saudi Arabia’s hydrocarbon reserves firmly into its orbit.
Through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and a reported offer to invest in the kingdom’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, the Chinese are laying the groundwork for a profound economic shift in the Middle East and the world.
As it has grown over the last three decades, China has slowly become a much more important energy partner to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. Its emergence as an economic powerhouse has increasingly fueled its ambition to dictate the rules of the energy market: In recent years, it has scaled down its share of energy imports from OPEC members in favor of non-OPEC countries, primarily due to its preference to purchase oil and gas in yuan or the local currency of the exporter, rather than U.S. dollars. China imports approximately one-quarter of its energy from Saudi Arabia, but Russia recently supplanted the kingdom as China’s top energy producer.
China’s fastidious control over its own currency is the first step toward upending the way oil is traded. Forged by President Richard Nixon and Saudi King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1973, the petrodollar system has wedded the greenback to the world’s most sought-after commodity.
In return for conducting energy sales exclusively in dollars, the United States agreed to sell Saudi Arabia advanced military equipment. One obvious reason China wants oil to be traded in yuan is to increase global demand for yuan-denominated assets. This would increase capital inflows and may eventually lead to the yuan being a plausible global alternative to the American dollar. Saudi Arabia is OPEC’s historic swing producer and price arbiter – if it agreed to conduct transactions in currencies other than the dollar, other OPEC producers would be forced to follow suit.
Beijing’s thinking is also influenced by geopolitical calculations. China’s return on investment in Saudi infrastructure could take decades, but Beijing would gain a valuable foothold in the Gulf and possibly persuade one of the world’s leading oil producers to upend the way oil is traded. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, especially the United Arab Emirates, provide a valuable hub to Middle Eastern and African markets through their ports, airports, and global networks. This spring and summer, Beijing and Riyadh announced a number of deals in various sectors, including increased energy exports and a reported $20 billion shared investment fund.
The equation is much more difficult for Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing countries in the Gulf. On one hand, Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States, however shaky, is the bedrock of regional security. On the other hand, growth in energy consumption will continue to be centered east of the kingdom, not west.
The Chinese have not given Saudi Arabia much time to consider its options. Chinese state-owned oil companies PetroChina and Sinopec have already expressed interest in a direct purchase of 5 per cent of Saudi Aramco. This could prove to be a boon for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been eager to achieve a $2 trillion valuation of Aramco in a highly anticipated initial public offering, which is currently scheduled for 2018.
Considering the depressed state of the oil market, investors may be hesitant to meet the targets for Aramco’s valuation that the Saudi leadership has laid out. A private Chinese placement could solve this dilemma – and allow Riyadh to delay the IPO in the hopes that oil prices will improve. While this investment may not explicitly require that Saudi Arabia agree to trade in yuan, it would give China leverage toward that goal. For Mohammed bin Salman, Chinese investment in Aramco could kick-start a new economic partnership with Beijing. As part of its economic reform, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan intends to raise foreign direct investment from 3.8 percent of GDP to 5.7 percent, or an additional $12 billion per year.
It is a far safer bet that China would be able and willing to inject that type of money into Saudi Arabia than U.S. private equity and hedge funds. The main reason for this is the difference in Chinese and Western time horizons when considering return on investment. While Western governments and companies have historically had appetite for infrastructure projects that offer a return on investment in a maximum of 30 to 40 years, the Chinese are playing a much longer game – in some cases investing in projects that break even in more than 100 years.
Saudi Arabia and China stand to gain from this geoeconomic shift – but what about the United States? For all its talk of remaking the U.S. economy, the Trump administration must heed the changing economic currents. Given the depths of Beijing’s interest in Saudi Aramco, it seems many policymakers in the Gulf and the West do not fully appreciate the geopolitical interests at stake. Aramco, formerly the Arabian-American Oil Company, will not rebrand itself – but it may effectively become “Archco,” the Arabian-Chinese Oil Company.
Asked how he went bankrupt, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises responded: “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.” It’s unlikely the petrodollar system will be fully replaced by an equivalent “petroyuan” system, but the dollar’s monopoly on major oil sales may loosen gradually – and then suddenly. That gradual process may have already begun.


Saudi women to be allowed into sport stadiums

Women in Saudi Arabia will reportedly be allowed to attend sporting events in stadiums next year, according to reports.

They will be allowed into stadiums in the major cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, the BBC reports.

The news come as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to chart a more modern course for the conservative country, which for decades had banned concerts and film screenings and arrested women who attempted to drive.

Since catapulting to power with the support of his father, the king, the prince has pushed forth changes that could usher in a new era for one of the United States’ most important allies and swing the kingdom away from decades of ultraconservative dogma and restrictions.

Hundreds of Saudi Arabian women have for the first time in history attended a sports stadium to mark their country’s national day.

The prince grabbed headlines in recent days by vowing a return to “moderate Islam”.

He also suggested that his father’s generation had steered the country down a problematic path and that it was time to “get rid of it.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

In his sweeping “Vision 2030” plan to wean Saudi Arabia of its near total dependence on petrodollars, Prince Mohammed laid out a vision for “a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method”.

Prince Mohammed, or MBS as he is widely known, used a rare public appearance on stage at a major investor conference in the capital, Riyadh, this week to drive home that message to a global audience.

“We only want to go back to what we were: Moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all religions,” he said.

“We will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.”

His remarks were met with applause and a front-page article in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.

In expanded remarks to the paper, the 32-year-old prince said that successive Saudi monarchs “didn’t know how to deal with” Iran’s 1979 revolution that brought to power a clerical Shiite leadership still in place today.

That same year, Saudi rulers weathered a stunning blow: Sunni extremists laid siege to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca for 15 days.

Women will be allowed in three Saudi Arabian sports stadiums from next year.

The attack was carried out by militants opposed to social openings taking place at the time, seeing them as Western and un-Islamic.

Indeed, Sunni extremists have used the intolerant views propagated by the ideology known as Wahhabism to justify violence against others. Wahhabism has governed life in Saudi Arabia since its foundation 85 years ago.

The ruling Al Saud responded to the events of 1979 by empowering the state’s ultraconservatives. To hedge the international appeal of Iran’s Shiite revolution, the government backed efforts to export the kingdom’s foundational Wahhabi ideology abroad.

To appease a sizeable conservative segment of the population at home, cinemas were shuttered, women were banned from appearing on state television and the religious police were emboldened.

Much is now changing under the prince as he consolidates greater powers and prepares to inherit the throne.

There are plans to build a Six Flags theme park and a semi-autonomous Red Sea tourist destination where the strict rules on women’s dress will likely not apply.

Females have greater access to sports, the powers of the once-feared religious police have been curtailed and restrictions on gender segregation are being eased.

Unlike previous Saudi monarchs, such as King Abdullah who backed gradual and cautious openings, Prince Mohammed is moving quickly.

More than half of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million citizens are below the age of 25, meaning millions of young Saudis will be entering the workforce in the coming decade.

The government is urgently trying to create more jobs and ward off the kinds of grievances that sparked uprisings in other Arab countries where unemployment is rampant and citizens have little say in government.

The prince has to find solutions now for the problems he is set to inherit as monarch.

“What MBS is doing is a must requirement for any kind of economic reform. Economic reform requires a new Protestant ethic if you will, a new brand of Islam,” said Maamoun Fandy, director of the London Global Strategy Institute.

This new Saudi version of “moderate Islam” can be understood as one that is amenable to economic reforms; it does not close shops at prayer time or banish women from public life, Fandy said.

In other words, Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms require social reforms to succeed.

Buzzwords like “reform,” ”transparency” and “accountability” — all used by the prince in his promotion of Vision 2030 — do not, however, mean that Saudi Arabia is moving toward greater liberalism, democracy, pluralism or freedom of speech.

The government does not grant licenses to non-Muslim houses of worship, and limits those of its Shiite Muslim citizens.

The prince has also made no mention of human rights concerns. If anything, dozens of the prince’s perceived critics have been detained in a warning to others who dare to speak out.

Some of those arrested were seen as critics of his foreign policies, which include severing ties with Qatar, increasing tensions with Iran and overseeing airstrikes in Yemen that have killed scores of civilians and drawn sharp condemnation from rights groups and some in Washington.

Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed faces a Saudi public that remains religiously conservative. That means he still needs public support from the state’s top clerics in order to position his reforms as Islamic and religiously permissible.

These clerics, many of whom had spoken out in the past against women working and driving, appear unwilling or unable to publicly criticize the moves.

In this absolute monarchy, the king holds final say on most matters and the public has shown it is welcoming the changes.


Saudi crown prince reiterates backing for OPEC oil output cut extension

Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman reaffirmed his backing for an extension to OPEC’s crude oil output cut beyond its current March 2018 deadline to rebalance the global market.

“The kingdom affirms its readiness to extend the production cut agreement, which proved its feasibility by rebalancing supply and demand,” the crown prince said in a statement.

OPEC members and 10 non-OPEC producers led by Russia, have committed to cut a combined 1.8 million b/d from the market in a bid to lower record high crude oil inventories. The initial six-month deal was extended in May to March 2018.

Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the reigning monarch King Salman al-Saud is the key driver of the OPEC kingpin’s oil policy.

“The high demand for oil has absorbed the increase in shale oil production,” he added.

“The journey towards restoring balance to markets, led by the kingdom, is proving successful despite the challenges,” he said.

While he has backed an extension, the details of any deal, including its length, allocations or any other new terms, will have to be negotiated before the coalition’s next meeting November 30 in Vienna.

An agreement is far from certain. Russian energy minister Alexander Novak, who is due to meet Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih in Riyadh this week, has said he does not see a need to announce any extension at the November 30 meeting.


The Future Investment Initiative and the New Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is determined to ‘amaze’, as part of its strategy for national renaissance based on social and economic liberalization, and next-generation innovation, moving the kingdom away from the constraints of traditionalism to fascinating horizons of science and technology. During the Future Investment Initiative launch in Riyadh this week, the young crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled the Neom mega-city project, fearlessly embracing pioneering futuristic technology unprecedented in the Arab region, in partnership with top international talent and leading global investment minds.

In his remarks on Neom, the Red Sea city for “dreamers”, the crown prince, who is the brain behind Vision 2030, expressed political and social gravity when he spoke of 1979 as a turning point in the rise of Islamic extremism and the spread of the ‘Sahwa’ religious revival project across the region. He said: “Saudi was not like this before 1979. Saudi Arabia and the entire region went through a revival after 1979 … All we are doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people”. Some clear steps were taken recently and I believe we will obliterate the remnants of extremism very soon,” bin Salman added.

Such clarity about confronting extremism carried domestic, regional, and international implications. It comes amid an engagement with Iraq and an estrangement with Qatar, with the conflict in Yemen still raging. It also comes amid a strengthening of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the United States, but also the opening of new chapters in Saudi policy including in Africa. Nothing short of a quiet, pragmatic revolution is taking place in the kingdom, to execute a calculated leap towards radical change. However, obstacles, pitfalls, and resistance are to be expected.

Several interesting observations can be made about the launch of the Future Investment Initiative, attended by more than 3,500 international figures from the worlds of finance, technology, and entrepreneurship. One of the first things visitors noticed was that the Saudi women in attendance were not wearing the traditional black robes, but colorful garments. This is important because the theme it captures is the right to self-expression. Indeed, Saudi women who recently were given the right to drive in the kingdom, have worked quietly and patiently behind the scenes, lobbying for important rights, and the emancipation from the logic of conformism behind black robes that all Saudi women must adhere to captures this, and is no superficial matter.

Everyone expected the crown prince to attend his session, make his speech, then leave as is the habit especially in Saudi Arabia. Instead, he sat on a panel that brought him together with three others, and responded to spontaneous questions that brought him closer to the audience and Saudis at large, launching himself as a new breed of rulers in the kingdom. At the dinner banquet later, Prince Mohammed bin Salman also surprised the attendees, interacting with the guests and taking pictures with them for over an hour. Again, this is unusual in these occasions in the kingdom.

Certainly, the conference worked as an advertisement for the Neom project and more importantly, the new Saudi Arabia as imagined by Vision 2030. There were deliberate stunts like granting the robot Sofia Saudi nationality, a precedent anywhere.

Expectedly, reservations were expressed about the massive Neom project, to be located in the northwestern corner of the kingdom over an area of 26,500 sq. km, with 469 km of shoreline overlooking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The sunlight and wind the area receives makes it possible for its entire energy needs to be met by renewables. Some voices said the project is in the realm of science fiction, with no specific timetable set to bring it to reality, although the talk behind the scenes is that it would take 15 years to materialize. Some expressed concern over the huge funds that would be poured into the ‘dreamers’ project’, given that the long-term economic reality is not stable. Some also spoke about the gap between the fantastical aspirations of the project and the very real problems faced by Saudi Arabia, from the differences with Qatar to the conflict in Yemen and the rivalry with Iran.

Thanks to Uber, the ride-hailing company, there was a chance to survey the opinions of some Saudi youths. The first surprise came when it turned out that the majority of Uber drivers are young Saudi men, rather than foreigners, usually from the Asian subcontinent. Their views were not homogenous, which in turn is unusual when surveying Saudi citizens publicly. One protested the situation, saying he held an MA in law and had to work as taxi driver after failing to find work in his field. He said he was opposed to the crisis with Qatar and the intervention in Yemen, and expressed reservation over the absolute structure of power concentrated in one individual, no matter how visionary he may be. By contrast, another driver said he absolutely supported the concentration of leadership and its boldness in tackling extremism and moving the kingdom forward. He said he is a dentist but needed to work as an Uber driver because he needed two jobs, which he said he did not mind and hated indolence. He was full of enthusiasm for the new Saudi Arabia, which would attract top talent and innovation.

The change in the Saudi mindset is not absolute. But something is happening, namely, the downscaling of that high-handedness that many had the impression was the norm in the kingdom’s leadership. This change has not yet reached Saudi foreign policy, but important steps have been made especially with Western leaders in various fields as evinced by the Future Investment Initiative.

Clearly, the new leadership wants to strike deals with various nations, and no longer deal exclusively with the US and Europe. The three main contractors that signed deals with the Public Investment Fund for the Neom project are Germany’s electronics giant Siemens, America’s financial group Black Stone, and Japan’s Soft Bank – the third largest corporation in that country after Toyota and Mitsubishi.

Knocking on the doors of tomorrow with such major partnerships seeks to make Saudi Arabia a global magnet for futuristic investments. It is a leap from an inert past to a dynamic and bold future.

Such a leap to new Saudi liberalism from politics to the economy will no doubt have regional implications. It is the precursor of a new regional order that will be led by the Gulf nations and Egypt, and the private sector across the region, and Iran will not be able to ignore it. The leap forward is taking place in all sectors, in health, education, manufacturing, agriculture, and employment. Saudi Arabia has finished reorganizing its ministries and has established mechanisms to monitor their performance. Riyadh has launched a revolution in the relationship between the public and private sectors. The first major test for the leap was when control of the oil sector was shifted from government hands to a corporation, with 5 percent of Aramco’s shares set to be offered in an international IPO.

Saudi Arabia’s gradual upturning of traditional notions and policies is part of a collective workshop based on an executive approach, to effect a historical shift from the welfare state where citizens have automatic privileges, to a dynamic, modern economy unprecedented in the history of the kingdom.

This quiet revolution is far from the populist coups, and seeks to topple the culture of complacency, while also confronting resistance from the traditionalists opposed to liberalization. Vision 2030, which was launched in April, is not even a year old yet. Nevertheless, only six months later, it has proven itself to be a serious and astounding vision that is determined to create a renaissance in the kingdom, by rewarding the dreamers and inventors, and boldly going in a new direction instead of complacent catching-up.


New Saudi Arabia mega-city project ‘will be as transformative to cities as smartphone was to telephones’

Is it possible to create a completely new high-tech mega-city on a totally green field site that incorporates all that technology offers today, and create a test-bed for developing the technologies of tomorrow? This is what the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia believes it can do, with a new smart city and entire sustainable ecosystem to be built from the ground up with a $500 billion initial investment, the first phase of which will be completed by 2025.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has announced a ground-breaking new initiative to establish a new urban ecosystem along the north west Red Sea coast of the Kingdom.

The new project, entitled ‘NEOM’, will seek to maximize the natural advantages the area has for wind and solar energy, and is being supported by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, led by former Alcoa and Siemens CEO, Klaus Kleinfield. Partners from leading technology companies are being called to join the innovative project, with public backing already secured from robotics experts Boston Dynamics.

In outlining the NEOM plan, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said, “There will be many opportunities, but we will work only with the dreamers – people who want to create something new in the world.”

Touching on the radical nature of the plan, the Crown Prince suggested that the new development will be as transformative to cities as the smartphone was to telephones. He also stressed the pivotal role the citizens of Saudi Arabia will play in ensuring the success of this project, referring to them as ‘the most important asset we have’.

Softbank chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son called it a fantastic opportunity which would create ‘the largest and most advanced generation of robots in the world’. Marc Raibert from Boston Dynamics spoke confidently on how NEOM can be a testbed for the successful implementation of a range of technologies, as well as a key factor in pulling smart robotics forward. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman called the project ‘transformational’.

The CEO Klaus Kleinfield promised the technology industry that NEOM will be a ‘beautiful and natural place’ for the best and the brightest to make their mark for generations to come. In this regard, Kleinfield committed to a collaborative process in the development of regulatory systems that will work for, and adapt to, new technologies, including drones, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT). He suggested that the new development will be a ‘magnet for talent’.

NEOM born from Vision 2030 plan, with $500bn investment

NEOM is born from the ambition of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to see the country develop into a pioneering and thriving model of excellence in various and important areas of life. It aims to thrive the transformation of the Kingdom into a leading global hub through the introduction of value chains of industry and technology.

“NEOM will focus on nine specialized investment sectors and living conditions that will drive the future of human civilization, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological & digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media, and entertainment with livability as its foundation. The focus on these sectors will stimulate economic growth and diversification by nurturing international innovation and manufacturing, to drive local industry, job creation, and GDP growth in the Kingdom. NEOM will attract private as well as public investments and partnerships. NEOM will be backed by more than $500 billion over the coming years by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, local as well as international investors”, said HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The new project resides in the Northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, and spans over 26,500 km2. Overlooking the waterfront of the Red Sea to the South and the West, and the Gulf of Aqaba, NEOM has an uninterrupted coastline stretching over 468 km, with a mountain backdrop rising to 2,500m to the east. A constant breeze leads to mild temperatures. The wind and sun will allow NEOM to be powered solely by regenerative energy.

NEOM claims to be situated on one of the world’s most prominent economic arteries, through which nearly a tenth of the world’s trade flows. Its strategic location will also facilitate the zone’s rapid emergence as a global hub that connects Asia, Europe and Africa, enabling 70 percent of the world’s population to reach it in under eight hours, which brings the potential to combine the best of major global regions in terms of knowledge, technology, research, teaching, learning, living and working.

The site will also become the main entrance to the King Salman Bridge, linking Asia and Africa, which will add to the zone’s economic significance. It’s land mass will extend across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering NEOM the first private zone to span three countries.

Investments and financing will play a vital role in NEOM, set to be spearheaded by the Kingdom’s economy and supported by PIF – a major global fund with access to a worldwide network of investors and major companies — set to be brought onboard to drive the success of NEOM.

With the ambition of becoming one of the world’s future economic and scientific capitals, in addition to being the future commerce capital of Saudi Arabia, It is looking to attract new foreign direct investment that will contribute to PIF’s long-term growth strategy aimed at strengthening the Saudi Arabian economy.

It will be developed to be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework, excluding sovereignty. NEOM will adopt a regulatory framework that fosters technological as well as societal innovation and entrepreneurship in accordance with international best practices. Investors, businesses, and innovators will be consulted at every step of the development in how best to create the economic framework, design the urban plans, and attract top quality talent that will drive the growth of this zone and its resident population.

“NEOM will be constructed from the ground-up, on greenfield sites, allowing it a unique opportunity to be distinguished from all other places that have been developed and constructed over hundreds of years and we will use this opportunity to build a new way of life with excellent economic prospects. Future technologies form the cornerstone for NEOM’s development: disruptive solutions for transportation from automated driving to passenger drones, new ways of growing and processing food, healthcare centered around the patient for their holistic well-being, wireless high speed internet as a free good called ‘digital air’, free world-class continuous online education, full scale e-governance putting city services at your fingertips, building codes that make net-zero carbon houses the standard, a city layout that encourages walking and bicycling and all solely powered by renewable energy just to name a few. All of this will allow for a new way of life to emerge that takes into account the ambitions and outlooks of humankind paired with best future technologies and outstanding economic prospects”, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman added.

The NEOM project also seeks to achieve its ambitious goals of becoming among the top secure areas in the world – if not the most – by adopting the future technologies in the fields of security and safety. This will raise the standards of public life activities and ensure the safety and protection of residents, visitors, and investors.

All services and processes in NEOM will be 100 percent fully automated, with the goal of becoming the most efficient destination in the world, and in turn be implemented on all activities such as legal, government, and investment procedures among others. Additionally, it will be subject to the highest sustainability standards, and will provide all transactions, procedures, and claims through paperless and electronic means.

A new concept for the workforce will be implemented, based on attracting high-caliber human resources with unique competencies for full-time innovation, decision making and business leadership. Repetitive and arduous tasks will be fully automated and handled by robots, which may exceed the population, likely making the NEOM’s GDP per capita the highest in the world.

The officials claim that all these elements will put NEOM at the world’s forefront in terms of efficiency which will make it the ‘best destination in the world to live in’.

[Main image: Discover NEOM; Map image: Bloomberg]


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Quote by the Prince

"We seek to be proud of our country, and allow the latter to contribute to the development of the world, whether on the economic, environmental, civilisational, or intellectual levels."

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