As part of a three-day visit to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in discussions with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi about the Kingdom’s plans for a multi-billion dollar megacity along the Gulf of Aqaba. To facilitate the construction of the megacity, dubbed NEOM, the Egyptian government announced plans to set aside more than 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) to be used for the project.
The Egyptian government granted the Kingdom the land through long-term lease to use for construction of the Egyptian side of the megacity. The joint cooperation between the most populous Arab country and one of the richest also yielded a fund worth $10 billion for the planned megacity, which comes as the Egyptian government continues to work on developing its economy.
NEOM, which Prince Mohammed announced late last year, is a 26,500 square kilometer (10,230 square mile) transnational economic zone that spans Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, all of which border the Gulf of Aqaba near the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia’s plans are part of what the monarchy is calling Saudi Vision 2030, which is an elaborate plan aimed at shifting the Kingdom’s dependence on the dwindling oil industry to other sectors in the economy. The original plan includes maritime borders belonging to Egypt and Jordan, which helps explain Egypt’s recent announcement to lease to the Kingdom plots of land in the Sinai Peninsula.
Since NEOM is supposedly transnational, the legislative and judicial jurisdictions with which it will be governed are yet to be defined. The city, however, is designed to attract investment and focus on industries like tourism as well as develop key sectors like energy and water, biotechnology, and food.
Saudi Arabia has announced plans to build seven cities and several resort projects along the Saudi coast, while Egypt has said that it would invest in developing its existing resort cities of Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh. Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are slated to encourage European cruise ships to come through the Gulf of Aqaba during the winter months so as to rejuvenate tourism in the area.
Elsewhere in the megacity, Saudi Arabia says it plans on building up to 50 resorts and four cities as part of another domestic tourism initiative. This comes after the Kingdom introduced a tourist visa for visitors to the Kingdom.
During his visit to Egypt, the Saudi Crown Prince and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi signed an environmental protocol to preserve the Red Sea and its corals and protect it from what they called “visual pollution,” although they did not elaborate on what that meant.
The Egyptian government saw an onslaught of protests last year after it decided to cede the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia on grounds that the islands were only under Egyptian sovereignty temporarily. Ahead of the Crown Prince’s visit, Egypt’s top court dismissed the two legal challenges to the Tiran and Sanafir deal with Saudi Arabia on grounds that it was a matter of sovereignty.