- Balázs Farkas
Has the Oil Era Come to an End in Saudi Arabia?
Vision 2030, announced by Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is an enormous futuristic plan to make a total change in the economy and society, in order to ensure the future well-being and richness of the nation. Changes are needed to provide a sustainable concept for the country as the importance of oil is decreasing.
In recent decades, oil was the main base of economic growth in Saudi Arabia providing an influential role not only in the global oil market, but in international politics as well. Being the informal head of OPEC as well as a member of the G20; Saudi Arabia became one of the most prospering, most admired, and wealthiest countries in the world, which is why it is worth to look at how they will cope with global trends.
The flagship project of the Vision 2030 is establishing a new metropolis already under construction named Neom. It is in Northwest Saudi Arabia, near the Suez Canal, and it will have a size comparable to Belgium. Citizens will live in a 170 km long part of the area called The Line. The Line will be self-sufficient, using only clear energy. Cars will not be allowed, so there will be no roads on the surface; everything will be reachable within 20 minutes by high-speed public transportation, and the basic buildings (supermarkets, schools, health centres, etc.) will be a maximum of a five minute walk. Also, artificial intelligence will greatly influence the everyday life of the city.
Neom will have a multifunctional character aiming to have a major contribution to the land’s GDP. Regarding its great location, it will be unavoidable for global commerce, thus a huge turnover of global goods will be handled there. Besides providing high-quality education, Neom’s goal is to be a financial centre and a technology hub. The closest example for Neom is Singapore, where the most significant banks and the most innovative companies from Southern Asia are headquartered. Neom can be a new economic capital not only for Saudi Arabia, but for the whole Middle East as well.
On the other hand, a lot of questions are circulating about feasibility. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has enough power and money to build this city, but how will it prosper and flourish in the future? According to Mohammed Nuruzzaman, Associate Professor of International Relations at the Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait, the lack of quality education, the growing youth unemployment, and the strict rules for women are spelling the project’s doom and are causing chaos in the region. In addition, the unfair way of chasing away original tribes from the area was criticized by Western media. However, if the project will be successful, it would shake up the Middle East, stabilise the power of the dynasty, give an effective alternative to the oil industry, and begin a new golden age for the Arabic world, providing a leading a role for Saudi Arabia.
Overall, Vision 2030 is a giant plan never seen before, containing all the innovations of our age. Its success will seriously affect our lifestyle, showing us a new opportunity to live faster and more comfortably in a sustainable way. Cities will have to rethink their contribution to the population and may adapt many of the futuristic innovations from Neom. It could prove that sustainability is not just a dream, but a real option.