Behind the stories of luxury hotels, advanced megacities and even robotic servants lies the hidden reality of a modern dystopia.
Never Neom is a group of human rights defenders committed to providing the truth about Saudi Arabia’s Neom project and informing the world of the reality behind the hype. We are only one website, but we hope to provide an alternative story to the one put out by one of the most powerful states on earth.
For Neom to succeed, tens of thousands of tribes people would need to be evicted from their land. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers would need to work without even the most basic rights. And the state must deploy terror and violence to stop those who stand in its way.
But to succeed it also needs international support. It needs positive pieces in newspapers, supportive politicians and governments, celebrity endorsements and, most importantly, investors and contractors from around the world.
We want to encourage those thinking of getting involved to think twice. And we want those of you who care to lobby those who are supporting the project.
We stand in support of the Huwaiti tribespeople hounded from their land, of the journalists who have paid with their lives to expose the truth about Saudi Arabia’s attacks on human rights, and of the labourers brutally exploited to build the vanity projects of Saudi royalty. We want to be part of a global movement saying: “Never Neom”.
Neom is a $500 billion project to build a new economic zone in Saudi Arabia. Announced 2017 by Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman (MBS), it promises to be a retreat for the super-rich to vacation and for global entrepreneurs to innovate.
Neom would be a region of 26,500 square kilometres, encompassing huge factories, wildlife reserves and water purification centres. It would be carbon-neutral, while utilising advanced technologies for everything from robotic servants and flying cars to mass digital surveillance.
It would be located in the northwest of the country, in areas considered that lack infrastructure and public funding. It promises rapid development for these areas, according to its advocates.
But to construct this playground for the world’s elite, others will have to pay the price. Among them are the 20,000 members of the Howeitat tribe, who have called the land home for centuries – since long before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came into existence in 1931. Their towns and villages would need to be removed if Neom is to come to fruition, and attempts at mass evictions have already begun.
The myth of this being a modern, liberal project was shattered on 13 April 2020, when a Howeitat campaigner against evictions, Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti, was murdered by Saudi special forces. Since then, many others have been arrested for similar offences, spurring in turn protests against the regime from the tribespeople and other human rights activists.
So obsessed is the kingdom with its high-tech vision of a utopia for the global elite, it would not grant the Howeitat people the right to remain on the land, accommodating them in Neom. It has instead reverted to form – an easily-shaken dictatorship where no opposition is tolerated.
Neom is part of what MBS calls “Vision 2030” – the attempt to transform Saudi Arabia from a country reliant on oil exports to one that can attract other investment, export manufacturing and host luxury holidays. Most of all, it wants to be seen as a reliable, modern state. But those plans are already fraying.
From Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaigns in Yemen to its murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, MBS and his regime are losing friends. Among those to abandon their support of the project were advisors Daniel L Doctoroff and architect Norman Foster, who left after the journalist’s killing.
Whether Neom is even possible in the current economic climate, as the price of all drops to a historic low, is questionable in itself. But whatever its future, the Saudi regime’s attempts to force out the Howeitat, silence dissent and win the support of major international investors continues.
Until a time when the regime abandons its plans to expel those it deems undesirable, and commits to a basic standard of human rights, our message is clear: Never Neom.