Space pods and flying dragons. How Saudi Arabia wants to transform its capital

Abu Dhabi, UAE CNN  —  It looks like a city out of a science fiction movie: Space pods, flying dragons and floating rocks. But this is the birthplace of Islam, saudi-arabia-quest-visit-now/index.html”Saudi Arabia, which wants to transform its capital into one of “the most livable cities on Earth.”

The kingdom is building a new downtown in the capital Riyadh, its sovereign wealth fund announced on Friday. Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the “New Murabba” (new square) project is meant to expand the capital by some 19 square kilometers (4,695 acres) to accommodate hundreds of thousands of residents.

At the heart of the project is the “Mukaab,” a 400-meter (1,312-foot) high, 400-meter wide and 400-meter-long cube that is big enough to fit 20 Empire State buildings. It offers “an immersive experience” with landscapes changing from outer space to green vistas, according to Public Investment Fund (PIF), the MBS-led $620-billion sovereign wealth fund. The project is due to be completed in 2030.

Holographic technology is meant to offer “a new reality” to consumers as they shop and dine. The building also includes recreational facilities as well as hotels and residential units.

Saudi Arabia, which has been the subject of bad press for decades due to human rights violations, has embarked on an ambitious project to diversify the economy away from oil and shed its image as a conservative, closed-off state.

“Back in the day, you would have negative discussions about Saudi Arabia affiliated to human rights abuses,” said Andreas Krieg, research fellow at the King’s College London Institute of Middle Eastern Studies. “But now they’re trying to push new narratives of being a country of development and one that can build futuristic cities.”

But some analysts say Saudi Arabia has serious regional

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