Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Makes Rare Public Speaking Appearance at Conference in Riyadh, Announces New Megacity

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a rare public speaking appearance today at the Future Investment Initiative conference, organized by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The Forum in Riyadh, with attendance by chief executives of BlackRock Inc. and Blackstone Group LP and leaders from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, bills itself as “a pioneering new global investment event that will connect the world’s most powerful investors, business leaders, thought leaders and public officials with the path breaking innovations that are defining the future.”

The Forum is being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.

[Watch VIDEO from the Forum in Riyadh]

The Crown Prince, who spoke in Arabic and was live-translated into English, discussed investment opportunities and extremism and said “[w]e will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas, we will destroy them today.”

The Forum's panel on "The big shift: what new frameworks are needed."

The Forum’s panel on “The big shift: what new frameworks are needed.”

Earlier in the day, the Saudi crown prince announced the launch of NEOM, a project that aspires to be the “safest, most efficient, most future oriented, and best place to live and work” in the kingdom. NEOM will operate independently from the “existing governmental framework,” Bloomberg reports, with investors and businesses consulted at every step during development. The project will be backed by more than $500 billion from the Saudi government, the country’s sovereign wealth fund and local and international investors.

“NEOM will be constructed from the ground up, on greenfield sites, allowing it a unique opportunity to be distinguished from all other places that have been developed and constructed over hundreds of years,” the prince said in the statement.

Some 10,000 square miles (25,900 square kilometers) have been allocated for the development of the urban area that will stretch into Jordan and Egypt, creating “the world’s first independent special zone stretching over three countries,” Bloomberg reports. Klaus Kleinfeld, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Siemens AG and Alcoa Inc., was appointed to lead the development of NEOM.

“The city will focus on nine industries: energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media and entertainment,” according to the statement. “The focus on these sectors will stimulate economic growth and diversification.”

Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son said that Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had asked him to get involved. “I think Neom is a fantastic opportunity,” Son said.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) has surged to power and relevance under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but as the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, the fund is “troubled by disappointing investments, including in Uber Technologies Inc., and has struggled to calculate its own value…Poor accounting made it difficult for Saudi officials and foreign consultants to calculate the fund’s value, according to a fund official and a person briefed on the effort to audit it.”