Megacity project “Neom”: “Building on Saudi blood”


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As of: November 15, 2023 11:08 a.m

Saudi Arabia wants to become the largest producer of green hydrogen – at the center of the plans: the “Neom” megacity project. People are deported and imprisoned for this. Loud people benefit from this approach FACT-Also research German companies.

By Isolde Lichter and Sami Haddad

So that Saudi Arabia can implement its “Neom” megacity project, it is cracking down on residents of neighboring villages. 28,000 people are to be forced to move, around 6,000 have already been relocated, some have been paid to do so. But a man was also shot dead when he refused to leave his house. The authorities admitted this and spoke of a skirmish. German companies also benefit – at least indirectly – from this harsh approach by the Saudi state.

“Neom” is intended to form two straight walls of high-rise buildings with a total length of 170 kilometers and will eventually accommodate nine million people – who will be completely supplied with renewable energies. Part of “Neom” is the world’s largest green hydrogen project called Helios, built by a US company.

Graphical representation of the city called “The Line” from the “Neom” project.

The heart of Helios is provided by a German company: Nucera, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp. The Dortmund company is a specialist in water electrolysis. Green hydrogen promises lucrative business. With the order for “Neom”, Nucera multiplied its sales and directly achieved 500 million euros when it went public in July of this year. The company was promoted to the S-DAX in September, probably thanks to the good business in Saudi Arabia.

From 2026, the Helios plant is expected to produce up to 600 tonnes of the sought-after gas every day. The green electricity is supplied by wind farms that are being built around the coastal town of Maqna on the Gulf of Aqaba. What this means for the residents is also documented in a special report from the United Nations (UN) from the end of April 2023. This lists the information received: “In July 2022, the residents of Maqna, a coastal village run by members of the Howaitat, Bani tribes Attia and Juhayna are inhabited, deported – to the cities of Haql and Tabuk.” These towns are up to 200 kilometers away from the original homeland of the Bedouin tribes.

The brutal crackdown on the population

In Brussels, a woman campaigns for human rights in her home country of Saudi Arabia – even though her family is persecuted there. Lina Al-hathloul from the human rights organization ALQST is a lawyer and documents the expulsion of the Howeitat. This ancient Bedouin tribe has settled in the northwest of the country for centuries. Now their villages are apparently in the way of the construction work for “Neom”.

Al-hathloul has copies of court rulings from Saudi Arabia: According to them, forwarded Twitter messages or cell phone videos were enough for long prison sentences. According to a verdict: “He followed the account of people who are trying to violate the country’s security and shared their posts.” The verdict was: 21 years in prison.

Human rights activist Al-hathloul has documented arrests and torture in Saudi prisons.

In another judgment, which FACT It is said: “He was in possession of videos and publications on social networks with the aim of promoting terrorist ideologies and praising a deceased person.” This resulted in 50 years in prison.

“We have documented at least 50 arrests, including five people who were sentenced to death because they refused to leave their homes,” says human rights activist Al-hathloul. ALQST also documented one man’s brutal torture in prison. “His feet were whipped for hours. He was kept in the sun all day long, without the opportunity to move, drink or eat. He was subdued with electric shocks and flogging to make him make false confessions accusations of terrorism.”

UN calls on companies and governments to act

The UN report continued on the information received: “A large part of the Howeitat tribe refused to leave the country and as a result were subjected to various forms of persecution: destruction of property, the interruption of electricity supplies, unexplained fires, harassment , threats and kidnappings.” The United Nations expressed alarm at the threat of executions and called on companies and governments to intervene.

Regardless, the federal government is pushing hydrogen cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The green gas from the Gulf is intended to help decarbonize the German economy. In May, the federal government secured the business with the Helios plant in “Neom” with a Hermes guarantee.

Neither Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) nor the Ministry of Economics, led by Robert Habeck (Bündnis90/The Greens), wanted to comment in front of the camera. The Foreign Office of Annalena Baerbock (Bündnis90/The Greens) shared FACT in writing: “We are watching the reports on developments surrounding the “Neom” project in Saudi Arabia with great concern. We also regularly discuss this in our discussions with Saudi Arabia and ThyssenKrupp.”

“We have to seek dialogue with difficult partners, no matter where in the world, if we pursue the common goal of actually protecting the climate,” says Lamya Kaddor, who sits in the Bundestag as rapporteur for the Middle East for the Greens.

“If we were to abandon conducting this diplomacy, then at some point we would only be speaking to a few democratic states in the world. And, to be honest, that wouldn’t be to our benefit either.” However, it is clear to Saudi Arabia and other states that human rights are not negotiable.

Development Manager from project got out

Germany’s participation in the project in Saudi Arabia is viewed critically not only at the political level. Ulrich Heindl was development manager for the Helios project. The hydrogen expert left after a year and a half and switched to a project in Namibia: “While I was working for Neom, I became convinced that we should not rely on individual countries like this for this future green energy “We should leave Saudi Arabia, which is also politically and socially a bit dubious.”

Ulrich Heindl was development manager for the Helios project.

FACT ThyssenKrupp subsidiary Nucera has asked for a statement. The company states in writing: “Respect for human rights is and remains a central value at ThyssenKrupp-Nucera. We are committed to the United Nations International Convention on Human Rights and its Group-wide implementation.”

The human rights activist Al-hathloui sees German investors as having a great moral responsibility: “The Saudi government will not do anything to foreign investors.” That’s why all companies involved in “Neom” should raise their voices, she demands: “Don’t say you don’t know what’s happening on the ground. So you’re taking part in a project that’s built on Saudi blood.”

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