Saudi Arabia paying to keep image good in US

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 4, 2015. © Gary Cameron
The Saudi government, due to its alliance with the West and the millions it pays to lobbying and PR firms, was able to protect itself from the backlash over human rights violations, says Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

Saudi Arabia has struck deals with a number of US PR companies like Edelman and Podesta Group,  to improve the country’s reputation internationally. This comes amid the latest uproar over human rights violations against Saudi citizens.

RT: Saudi Arabia’s image isn’t that great, due to the human rights violations, the war in Yemen, and recently the Hajj stampede. So do you think the Saudis will get bang for their buck when it comes to having these PR and lobby powerhouses work on its image?

Ali al-Ahmed: The Saudi government has been one of the leading governments in terms of hiring lobbying firms in Washington DC and across Europe [for] making its image better. And it has by and large succeeded in maintaining and convincing the governments and political allies in Washington DC and in most of Europe... Many people in the US believe that the Saudi government is a good government, and that has been the prevailing perception. Unfortunately, it is not a factual perception within the American media. And policy makers have been [saying] the Saud monarchy is an ally and is a moderate force. So I would say yes.

RT: What do you think it will take for these lobby and PR groups to improve Saudi Arabia’s image if the kingdom itself doesn’t take steps on human rights, ending the war in Yemen, and other things?

AA: Saudi Arabia in terms of its record in human rights – is clearly one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to human rights practices. But because of its alliance with Western governments and with the Western political elites supported by millions of dollars it gives to lobbying and PR firms, they have been able to protect themselves from any backlash from the West in terms of human rights. They have invested, for example - which is very important to know – in Hillary Clinton's campaign through hiring one of Hilary Clinton’s main fund raisers. So how do you do that legally? The Saudi government gives money to the friends of Clinton, so her candidacy and her presidency if it comes, will be loyal and friendly to the Saudi monarchy.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) holds a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal following a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council forum at the GCC secretariat in Riyadh March 31, 2012. © Brendan Smialowski

RT: Some of these lobby groups and PR firms have ties to the US government, whether it’s ex-Senators working for them, or having ties to the Democratic Party. Are they worried at all about their own reputation in trying to improve the image of a major human rights violator?

AA: I think right now they are not worried about it because there is not so much attention being brought to this in the US…

Without the public knowing what their politicians and their PR companies are doing, I don’t think there will be much reaction to them serving the Saudi monarchy, even if some monarchies that have helped bring terrorism against the US.

RT: We already know from WikiLeaks cables, that Saudi Arabia tries to keep various media outlets in its pocket. How long do you think the kingdom can get away with the human rights violations they commit by simply throwing money at the problem?

AA: Unfortunately, the media and politics in the US are influenced by money. So as long as the Saudi government can pay and is paying – they will continue to have good results from spending that money. And in the absence of a strong alternative voice – the Saudis will continue to be successful and protect their image in the US.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.