Mohammed bin Salman and Klaus Kleinfeld NEOM
Pictured: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Klaus Kleinfeld after his appointed as NEOM's CEO Source: Reuters

On Tuesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of NEOM, a project that aspires to be the “safest, most efficient, most future-oriented, and the best place to live and work” in the kingdom, according to Reuters.

NEOM’s land mass will extend across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, making NEOM the first private zone to span three countries. 

Gulf News reported that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and other local and international investors are expected to put more than half a trillion dollars into the zone over the coming years.

The 26,500 square kilometers project will be four times the size of Dubai (4,114 sq/km), Beirut (200 sq/km), Cairo (528 sq/km), and Amman (1,680 sq/km) combined.

Wind and solar power will allow NEOM to be powered solely by regenerative energy, while 70 percent of the world’s population will be able to reach it within eight hours.

What is NEOM?

  • At a glance, the project called ‘NEOM’ will operate independently from the “existing governmental framework” (Saudi Arabia will still have control over foreign policy and the military). 
  • The plan includes a bridge spanning the Red Sea, connecting the zone to Egypt and the rest of Africa. 
  • Some 26,500 square kilometers urban area will stretch into Jordan and Egypt, creating “the world’s first independent special zone extending over three countries". 
  • The project will focus on nine industries: energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media, and entertainment.
  • According to its fact sheet, the megacity is expected to be populated by investors, executives, business people, and entrepreneurs.
  • NEOM plans to generate annual gross domestic product worth $100 billion by 2033 (this would make it the 59th largest economy in the world)

The announcement of the ambitious new city comes as Saudi Arabia's new leadership has made a string of announcements over the past couple of years that will reshape the country.

King Salman recently disclosed his ambitions to sell a stake of the oil company Saudi Aramco along with allowing women to drive.

The country has also disclosed plans to restore itself to “moderate” Islam, suggesting the days of ultraconservative rule are over.

“We are returning to what we were before - a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world," Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying.

"We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon," the young royal and heir to the throne added.

Here are 4 historic moments that prove Saudi Arabia is serious about its shift to 'moderate' Islam:

1. The ruling family recently imposed new rules on religious preachers in Saudi Arabia

2. Saudi Arabia restricted the powers of the Saudi religious police

3. The kingdom also set up a commission to authenticate the prophet's sayings

4. The country is taking major steps forward to improve women's rights, including lifting the ban on women driving