06/27/2023, 16.16
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Riyadh Expo 2030, final stop for Mohammad bin Salman’s 'vision'

by Dario Salvi

Riyadh, which has received French support, is running to host Expo 2030 against Rome and Busan. The ambitious project is part of the economic and social reform plans of the country’s crown prince. While promoting its environmental credentials, the multibillion-dollar project has very little room for human freedoms.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia presented its bid last week in Paris for the 2030 universal exhibition receiving French support. Now all it has to do is beat the competition, Italy’s capital of Rome and above all South Korea’s main port city of Busan.

The concept behind Riyadh Expo 2030’s master plan is to offer an unprecedented global experience in Expo history, centred on its beneficial function as evinced by its key theme, namely “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.”

This includes technology, innovation, sustainability, and global collaboration, as well as giving all participants equal opportunity.

In his address to representatives of the 179 member countries of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), who will pick a winner in November, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah described Riyadh Expo 2030 as an opportunity to promote projects with global impact that will provide global solutions through collaboration on common challenges using innovation, sustainability, and inclusiveness.

For the Saudi minister, this is the core of his country’s proposal, which also includes a “package of programs” worth US$ 343 million to help 100 countries with fewer economic resources in pavilion construction, maintenance, technical support, travel, and events.

Costs and vision

The ultimate goal of Saudi leaders is to invest US$ 7.8 billion to host the global event to seal the Vision 2030 development plan drawn up by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

For Saudi Investment Minister Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih, Expo 2030 represents the end point of the ambitious plan by the kingdom's heir and strongman, which will require up to US$ 3.3 trillion in nationwide investments between now and the end of the decade, with at least 30 per cent in the capital Riyadh alone.

Expo 2030 will be held near King Salman International Airport, which is now under construction and will be conveniently accessible to visitors using the Riyadh Metro network.

Some 226 pavilions are planned, each in spherical form to represent the earth, with a central line symbolising the equator.

This aesthetic approach is consistent with the event’s mission, which is to ensure equal opportunity to all participants while the design is inspired by the capital’s old urban style, history, culture, and natural beauty.

The location, a modern area built around an historic wadi (valley or riverbed), reflects Riyadh’s oasis and garden origins, as well as a sustainable future for cities and their residents.

Visitors will be able to stroll through a contemporary green oasis within one of the tributaries of Wadi As-Sulai, which runs through the exhibition site.

For Saudi Arabia, a country whose wealth comes from hydrocarbons, the proposal embodies its commitment to protecting and developing nature responsibly and a responsible approach to environmental issues and climate change.

Like the offer to provide all participants equal opportunity, all this sounds good, on paper, in a country ruled by an absolute Sunni dynasty, in which one of the fundamental human rights, religious freedom, is denied and no other form of worship other than Islam is allowed.

For this reason, the path of Saudi Arabia’s much heralded reforms and events such as Expo and other pharaonic projects (like the futuristic city of Neom) will be viewed as a real change, a turning point, only if they really ensure greater openness and freedom for everyone.

Meanwhile, the beating heart of the Expo’s master plan will be a landmark that symbolises the "Responsibility for Protecting the Planet” with 195 columns indicating the number of countries present.

Three pavilions will surround the central landmark, each reflecting one of the exhibition's subthemes: Prosperity for All, Climate Action, and A Different Tomorrow.

The exhibition will also include the Collaborative Change Corner (C3) to foster innovation and creativity during the seven-year journey leading up to Riyadh Expo 2030, and then beyond, showing how cooperation among the brightest minds can accelerate the transformations of the future.

The goal of its slogans, approach and concept is to make Riyadh Expo 2030 the most sustainable and influential Expo ever, starting with carbon neutrality.

Reforms and freedom

With Rome’s bid waning, the real contention is between Riyadh and Busan. For Saudi Arabia, the stakes could not be higher as reflected in the statements made by top government officials

“Our desire to host it in Saudi Arabia in 2030 lines with the target date for the implementation of our Vision 2030,” said Prince Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Envoy for Climate. “We want the world to see Saudi Arabia and we want Saudi Arabia to see the world. We are devoting tremendous resources to it."

The approach and driving force behind Riyadh’s bid is Saudi Vision 2030, the plan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to develop a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious country. Riyadh Expo 2030 would thus be its crowning moment, and boost the city's ambition of becoming a global hub.

The reform plan ranges from sustainable development and finance to entertainment. The latter includes huge investments in football and the motion picture industry, albeit with some censorship (in films, especially if they touch sensitive issues like homosexuality or religion).

Mazen Tammar, head of the Riyadh Expo 2030 Candidacy Bid, stressed the link between the city's ambitions and the event's transformative potential. “We believe there's a perfect synergy between a World Expo and the ambitions we have for Riyadh, making it the most ideal city to host this global event," he said.

Princess Haifa Al Mogrin, Permanent delegate of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO, insisted that her country would exercise “international responsibility" and build a “platform for the rest of the world to share experiences”.

Saudi Arabia’s war machine can pursue such high-sounding goals and ambitious projects, but something is missing: a word, a promise, for the rights and freedoms of men and women. The latter go hand in hand with development opportunities and cannot be separated from them.


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