Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salam has released his vision for Saudi Arabia circa 2030. The Future Investment Initiative summit, held on October 24 in country’s capital, Riyadh, hosted officials from within the kingdom and around the world. It featured a plan for landmark economic innovation and social liberalization through moderate religion.
At the summit, the crown prince announced the commencement of operations for a futuristic “mega-city” along the Red Sea stretching 10,230 square miles, 33 times the size of New York City. By relying on the region’s significant solar and wind energy sources, Mohammad seeks to detach the Saudi economy from its reliance on oil, announcing that this city would be run entirely on renewable energy. Water, energy, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing, and entertainment were posed as the city’s primary sectors. Mohammad touted that it would become a hub for economic investment and innovation connecting America, Europe, and Asia. The vision has been labeled NEOM, an abbreviation of neo mostaqbal, meaning new future.
These plans were presented in an elaborate virtual reality presentation on panoramic screens and 3D displays. Robots wheeled to and from the delegates to answer questions.
Present at the summit were Japanese economic visionary Masayoshi Son, major American investment manager Stephen Schwarzman, and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, all of whom signaled international support for NEOM. According to the crown prince, the city would attract an additional $500 billion in investments from the House of Saud’s Public Investment Fund. Mohammad’s objective to fundraise by selling shares of Saudi Aramco garnered great attention from the financial world. This move could put Saudi Arabia at the head of the international stock market.
Discussion at the summit was not limited to economic planning. The crown prince also expressed his intention to create religious change in the country. He called for the return to a “moderate Islam that is open to all religions” and vowed to “eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts.” While these remarks drew praise from international and Saudi secularists, they were also criticized by Burhanettin Duran, the coordinator for the government-sponsored Political, Economic, and Social Research Center in Ankara. He believes that Mohammad is acting as part of a larger scheme to challenge Iranian expansion. Writing in Sabah, a journal that acts as the Saudi government mouthpiece, Duran asserted that Mohammad’s declarations regarding religion at the summit were “only an ideological apparatus for containing Iran.”
Over the past decade, Iran has repeatedly been accused of funding terrorist organizations in the region. Iran is ruled by a Shiite theocracy, and a majority of the Islamic extremism that has arisen in the Middle East comes from the radical interpretation of Shiite Islam. Limiting extremism, therefore, might be a way to control Iran’s religious influence.
Additional criticism over the authenticity of the crown prince’s religious promises came from Turkish professor Mehmet Ali Buyukkara
Ultimately, the crown prince’s economic and religious prospects would make for a much different Saudi Arabia than that which exists today, and they have already begun to rouse the conservative-progressive tension that has been long brewing in the kingdom.