Come to Saudi Arabia — here’s $5,000

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Plans to make Riyadh an “inspiring place to live” include this cycle track

I don’t often get emails from the Saudi government, but one arrived yesterday offering me $5,000.

It came from the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) which is looking for “collaborative input” on plans to transform the Saudi capital into “a sustainable, responsible, inspiring place to live”.

The plans include creating the world’s largest urban park and a 135-km sports corridor, as well as planting 7.5 million trees and putting more than 1,000 pieces of art on open-air display.

This is to be discussed at a symposium in Riyadh on 12–13 November, and I’m invited.

“As a subject matter expert in your respective field, we would very much welcome your participation at this event,” the email says, adding that “your visa, airfare, transfers and hotel accommodation will be arranged and paid by RCRC”.

Then there’s the $5,000 which is described as “an honorarium”. All I have to do to get that, according to the email, is “compile a report” of my visit, share my findings “amongst peers” and “explore avenues for future collaboration”.

The puzzling thing about this is why they invited me. I know next to nothing about urban planning, so the value of my input to the discussion would be more like 10 cents than $5,000. The RCRC knows that too. It knows I am a journalist because the email is addressed to me as a former Middle East editor of the Guardian.

So could it be that the Saudis are looking to purchase some favourable media coverage?

The email from RCRC is below …

Originally published at

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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