A render from Duqms masterplan by global architecture firm SOM
Globally, Duqm is no anomaly. We are in the midst of an era of new cities with more than 200 currently under construction. Remote deserts all over east Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa are being urbanised. Theres Nurkent in Kazakhstan, Aylat in Azerbaijan, New Kabul City in Afghanistan, New Baghdad in Iraq, Rawabi in Palestine, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, New Cairo in Egypt Morocco has nine new cities in the works, and Kuwait has 12.
While differing in scale and complexity, most of these new cities are designed to meet similar goals: to reshape their economies and to rebrand their countries as technologically advanced and economically sustainable, as sleek, modern and international.
Oman is desperate to diversify away from its oil and gas dependency.
Research by the US Energy Information Administration puts Omans known crude oil reserves at 5.6bn barrels. While this is only enough to rank the country 21st in the world, its economy is disproportionately dependent: oil and gas accounts for nearly half of the countrys GDP, 70% of exports and between 68% and 85% of government revenue.
The International Monetary Fund predicted in 2016 that Oman could be
one of a host of oil-dependent Middle Eastern countries that could run out of money before the end of the decade. Coming alongside shocks such as the 2014 oil price crash, the message of diversification was driven home.
The government of Oman responded by decreeing that the hydrocarbon-derived share of its GDP
will be halved by 2020 . To this end, $106bn (81bn) was earmarked to develop tourism, transport and real estate sectors and efforts to bring projects like Duqm to fruition were doubled down.
Several dozen new cities are being constructed in the Middle East, mainly to transition away from the petroleum industry to a variety of other industries, including tourism, manufacturing, education and hi-tech, says Dr Sarah Moser, a McGill University geography professor and author of an upcoming atlas of new cities.
Many oil-producing states in the Middle East are eager to globalise their economies and attract international investors, particularly in anticipation of a post-oil world. New cities are a way to jumpstart this economic transition, and are also seen as a way to start fresh and avoid the entrenched corruption, bureaucracy and political entanglements of existing cities.
A promotional video for the Duqm special economic zone
Duqm sits on the Arabian Sea near the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf and the worlds most
glaring oil supply chokepoint. Nearly a fifth of the worlds oil currently flows through this passage, ever prone to disruption. If the Duqm project succeeds, the shipping industry would be able to dock at the gates of the Middle East without needing to go all the way inside.
It is this strategic position that has attracted the attention of Beijings much heralded
Maritime Silk Road. More than three-quarters of Omans crude oil exports go directly to China.
Last year, Oman Wanfang a consortium of private Chinese companies staked a $10.7bn 11 sq km claim in Duqms special economic zone. The consortium pragmatically dubbed their section of Duqm the Sino-Oman Industrial City and has plans to build an oil refinery, a methanol plant, a solar power equipment production facility, an automobile factory, a building materials plant, a $200m five-star tourism zone and enough homes to support a population of 25,000 in the area.
While the money for this endeavour is not officially coming from the Chinese government, Oman Wanfang clearly has the full political support of Beijing, including approval from the National Development and Reform Commission,
which has declared it a top overseas industrial park. This high-level political support has greased the path for other Chinese economic adventures in Oman, such as the $3.6bn behemoth of a loan presented to Muscat last year.
Other nations have invested in Duqm too, including Kuwait, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, and in February
it was announced that India would be given access to the port and dry dock for commercial and military purposes.
Duqms empty Bedouin Town a section of the city built for the 3,000 fishermen and semi-nomadic herders who called this place home before the bulldozers moved in
While Duqm was never very densely populated, around 3,000 Bedouin mostly fishermen and semi-nomadic herders called the area home before the bulldozers arrived.
These villages have now been demolished and the Oman government has built a new, modern town for them to relocate to. The houses look as if they were copied and pasted from Muscat bright, white buildings two storeys high with garages and ornate gateways. There is a mosque in the centre.
The houses stand empty. The local Bedouin prefer their traditional way of life and want space to keep camels.
They dont want to stay in the accommodation provided by the state because they find it very unnatural, says Prasad. But modernity has to catch up with them whether they like it or not.
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