Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a $500 billion plan today to create a new mega city-state linking Jordan and Egypt.
The 26,500 square km (10,230 square mile) swath of land, dubbed Neom, will embody everything that the prince hopes for the kingdom’s future cities. The plan is to create a hub of cutting-edge research and technology in industries like energy and water, biotechnology, food, and advanced manufacturing. “This will be a place for the dreamers for the world,” he said, speaking on a panel at the Future Investment Conference in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia said it is already in contact with potential investors and would complete the first phase of Neom by 2025, according to CNBC.
It will seemingly also be a place for Saudi women to gain more freedom. In a promotional video released today featuring a vision for Neom, women jog in sports bras in public and work side-by-side with men in R&D labs. Only one of the women featured wore a brightly patterned hijab.
The imagery sharply contrasts Saudi Arabia’s notorious restrictions on women. Until last month, it was the only country in the world that banned women from driving cars, before King Salman issued a decree that finally gave women that right.
But the end of the ban, coupled with the hints from the promotional video, signifies the country’s shift toward more socially progressive attitudes. Shortly after announcing the plans for Neom, Prince Mohammed bin Salman defended his social reforms, including the decision to lift the driving ban, reports the Associated Press. “We were not like this in the past,” the prince said. “We want to go back to what we were: moderate Islam.”