King Salman launches construction of Saudi Arabia's 'Disneyland'

King Salman launches construction of Saudi Arabia's 'Disneyland'
Saudi Arabia's King Salman was set to launch the entertainment city's construction on Wednesday, which was delayed without a reason given.
2 min read
29 April, 2018
More than 5,000 events are planned for 2018 [Getty]
Saudi Arabia's King Salman launched the construction of an "entertainment city" near Riyadh, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects as the oil-reliant kingdom seeks to diversify.

Saturday's launch - which had been scheduled to take place last Wednesday - signalled the construction of the new project in Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh.

The first phase of development, touted as Saudi Arabia's "Disneyland" with high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022, officials said.

The facility highlights a "relentless effort to develop giga-projects that will help achieve many direct and indirect economic returns", project official Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi was quoted as saying in a government statement last week.

The ambitious project - announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in October last year - will establish a 26,500 square km (10,230 square mile) zone dedicated to several industries, including biotechnology, water, food, energy, water and entertainment.

Aside from Qiddiya, the kingdom has unveiled blueprints for NEOM - billed as a regional Silicon Valley to be built from scratch - and a reef-fringed resort destination on the Red Sea.

Skeptics have questioned the viability of the projects, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, in an era of cheap oil.

In February, Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority said it would stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.

Saudi's young crown prince has been at the helm of a programme of reforms - known as Vision 2030 - looking to modernise the country.

The ambitious young leader aims to revive the Saudi economy by diversifying it away from its reliance on oil exports, as well as driving up domestic spending through the creation of cinemas, music venues and theme parks.

Recent months have witnessed concerts, a Comic-Con festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

The newfound openness, which includes plans to allow women to drive from June this year, has been hailed by some as a crucial liberalisation of Saudi society.

Critics have pointed to continued restrictions however, especially on women who remain under a strict "guardianship" system that gives male relatives significant control over their lives.