Planned Saudi Red Sea megacity fills Egypt with expectations

November 05, 2017
New opportunities. Visitors watch a 3D presentation during an exhibition on NEOM in Riyadh, October 25. (Reuters)

Cairo - Following the announce­ment that Saudi Arabia will seek to build a mas­sive entertainment and an industrial hub extend­ing into Jordan and Egypt, Egyp­tian officials said plans are under way to determine how to partici­pate in the project.
“This action will, of course, in­clude infrastructure needed on the Egyptian side for integration with the Saudi project,” said Egyptian Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Rana Gohar. “The Saudi project opens myriad opportunities for the Egyptian economy and tourism sector.”
Unveiled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Ab­dulaziz during an investment forum in Riyadh, the project — named NEOM — would include the construction of a futuristic megac­ity on Saudi Arabia’s western Red Sea coast that would integrate with the Gulf of Aqaba coast in Jordan and Egypt’s Red Sea coast near the Suez Canal.
Plans for NEOM involve an in­dependent economic trade zone — the first to span three countries — on an area of 26,500, bigger than Dubai and more than twice the size of Qatar.
Saudi Arabia announced it would invest $500 billion from its sover­eign wealth fund into key invest­ment sectors of energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technologi­cal and digital services, advanced manufacturing, media and enter­tainment.
It would also be the first megac­ity floated on the public market.
“This project is not a place for any conventional investor. This is a place for dreamers who want to do something in the world,” said Crown Prince Mohammed.
Work on the project is to begin in 2019 and the first phase is ex­pected to be completed by 2025. The location, along with a 468km waterfront on the Red Sea, of the city means that it will be a hub for intersectional shipping routes.
Egyptian officials said they hoped the megacity would increase trade and investment and bolster the country’s tourism industry.
“It will open vast opportunities for the economy and the tourism sector,” said Adel Abdel Razek, vice-president of the Egyptian Fed­eration of Tourist Chambers. “It will turn tourism promotion in this part of the world into an integrated work between Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This is something that will benefit all three coun­tries.”
Egypt’s tourism industry has not recovered since the 2011 revolution with improvements inhibited by security concerns. Cairo remains locked in a broad war against ter­rorism, with the Islamic State (ISIS) still a presence on the Sinai Pen­insula not far from the proposed NEOM site.
It is thought the establishment of the megacity, along with the proposed King Salman causeway, which would link Saudi Arabia and Egypt by road, would see Cairo step up its war against terrorism to en­sure the Sinai Peninsula is safe.
The bridge is planned to connect Tabuk in Saudi Arabia with the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in the southern Sinai, passing over the island of Tiran, which was repatri­ated to Saudi Arabia this year.
The Egyptian-Saudi Business Council, which promotes trade and investment cooperation between the countries, is to convene a meet­ing this month to discuss plans for NEOM, said Gohar. The meeting is to be attended, for the first time, by a representative from Jordan.
“This meeting will discuss, among other things, what both Egypt and Jordan will need to do,” Gohar said. “In Egypt, the belief is that the project will boost tourism and economic development plans inside Sinai, even as the govern­ment will need to make further studies about this.”
Analysts said the terror threat in the Sinai Peninsula could not be defeated through military force alone. Investments, such as NEOM, are needed to create jobs and im­prove living conditions for resi­dents.
“The development of Sinai is actually a prerequisite for end­ing the terrorist presence on it,” said Rashad Abdo, an economics professor at Helwan University. “The good thing about NEOM as a project is that it makes the devel­opment of the Sinai an essential thing for Egypt’s integration into the large Saudi plan for the Red Sea area.”