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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Egypt and Jordan look to reap benefits from planned Saudi mega city

Next to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and near maritime trade routes that use the Suez Canal, Neom will power itself solely with renewable wind power and solar energy

Participants watch a movie advertising Saudi's Red Sea project on the sidelines of the three-day Future Investment Initiatives conference in Riyadh, on October 25, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE
Participants watch a movie advertising Saudi's Red Sea project on the sidelines of the three-day Future Investment Initiatives conference in Riyadh, on October 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE

CAIRO // Hossam M Zayed, 40, believes Saudi Arabia’s new city, Neom - a purpose built centre for the tech-minded - adjacent to Jordan and Egypt - represents a transformative opportunity for his 12-year son, Saif – and himself.

An architectural engineer and consultant with passion for robotics, Mr Zayed is the coach of The Big Hero 6 Robotics Team, a group of four young Egyptian inventors who represented this country last month at the Maker Fair in New York city- a global competition for school-aged innovators.

“Neom will be an anchor for boosting robotics research the Middle East and it will develop into a global technology hub that is close to us both in terms of culture and geography,” Mr Zayed said. “It would be like a heaven for us and if it really happens, I would seriously consider living there.”

Next to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and near maritime trade routes that use the Suez Canal, the zone will power itself solely with renewable wind power and solar energy.

“I think everyone now understands clearly there is no future for the petroleum industry,” said Mohamed Salah, 25 co-founder of Social n’Tech - an Amman based digital content firm. “I think the Arabs are finally thinking in the right direction. Because by the end of the day, they will need new resources for money after the oil crisis.”

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The 26,500-square kilometre zone will be open to Saudi nationals and expatriates according to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who announced the ambitious plans for Neom on Tuesday.

“This represents the change for everyone in the region,” added Mr Salah. “The Saudis were always the most conservative community in the Middle East, this is just one of the changes that shows they are becoming more open-minded and that’s good for the whole region.”

Mr Salah is an ambassador in Jordan for 1MillionStartups - the first worldwide campaign dedicated to promoting entrepreneurial spirit and believes a new commitment by national movements to nurturing private enterprise in embodied in Prince Mohammed’s vison for Neom.

“From the entrepreneurship perspective, I'm so happy to see more countries getting involved and to see the United Arab Emirates, KSA and Egypt support this massive change,” Mr Salah said. “I'm so excited for what's going to happen over the course of the next five with every government getting by funding and creating public incubators and by adding entrepreneurship materials to the education system.”

Strategic and political analysts believe the new city is driven by pressing demographic and economic shifts in the region.

“Neom is needed by KSA for local, Gulf, Arab and international reasons,” said Fares Braizat, Chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions - an Amman research and consultancy firm. He said Neom would establish a more solid base of support for Prince Mohammed especially among the “forward looking young population” of Saudi Arabia who are the majority of the population and suffer from both unemployment and the lack of non-conventional economic opportunity.”

Prince Mohammed, who is also chairman of the Public Investment Fund told participants at the Neom launch event in Riyadh that the first phase of Neom will be complete by 2025.

“Jordan stands to benefit greatly as its people will find new job opportunities and Aqaba will become a hub for the building of this project,” Mr Braizat said. “At the Arab level, the Saudis are redesigning and reordering connectivity between the Gulf and Egypt, Neom will become a hub for fleeing Arab capital.”

The wholesale commitment to building from the ground up and reimagining urban life has caused many to compare Neom to Dubai.

“Saudi Arabia wants to demonstrate that it is at the helm by reclaiming its challenged leadership role by smaller states in the region,” Mr Braizat added. “The project is a [Saudi] catch-up with Dubai.”