Praying in the Middle East … $ 1 billion in food aid and “defense” talks

Saudi Arabia is trying to change stereotypes about it in the West, especially after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which led it to flee to Edelman, one of the most important liaison companies in America and the world, according to a report published by Politico is. .

To improve that picture, a previously unknown plan of 109 slides was submitted by law to the Department of Justice in June, including a five-year “Search Beyond” campaign.

Through this campaign, the Saudis will develop partnerships with celebrities and seek opportunities that can lead to international film productions being filmed across the Kingdom, and broadcast some episodes of major American entertainment programs from across the Kingdom, including “The Daily Show”.

In this regard, Edelman has formed a partnership with MTV in addition to collaborating with major institutions and bodies, and it has been proposed to include international celebrities such as Priyanka Chopra and DJ David Guetta on the field togra.

The plan, presented in Arabic, shows how far the Saudis were prepared to go to get rid of the “pariah” status in which U.S. President Joe Biden and others placed themselves in the wake of Khashoggi’s assassination.

A spokesman for Edelman declined to provide further details of his deal with Saudi Arabia, for which they charge 2,953,125 riyals, or about $ 787,000, over a year.

“Because the agreements are confidential with all our customers, we can not comment further than publicly available information,” the spokesman said.

On the other hand, the spokesman of the Saudi embassy in the United States, Fahad Nazer, asked POLITICO to send inquiries to his government email, but he did not respond to the questions addressed to him.

Seth Bender, the advocate director for the Middle East Democracy Project, said: “Mohammed bin Salman tried to whitewash his reputation by bringing celebrities to concerts and by buying sportswear through football clubs, and he could try anyway. rehabilitates His reputation and his image

“I think Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia is this kind of final, complete rehabilitation,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has spent large sums of money to improve its image internationally. These include sponsoring a new International Golf Tournament (LAV) and attracting big stars to take part, such as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, as well as the purchase of English club Newcastle last year.

Edelman has a history of work in and with Saudi Arabia. In 2020, Edelman registered with the Ministry of Justice to represent the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, a company that manufactures chemicals and other materials mainly owned by the Saudi government, in a transaction worth approximately $ 6.7 million .

She has also done liaison work for NEOM, which is working to develop a “smart city” within the 2030 vision launched by the Saudi Crown Prince, but the current contract with Riyadh is perhaps one of the most lucrative among his partnerships with the Kingdom in last few years.

Edelman, an agency of Daniel J. Edelman Holdings known as United Entertainment Group, divided contract costs into four categories: research, planning and strategy, media relations and strategic partnerships, social media plan development and outreach, and customer management and reporting.

Within these categories, Edelman promised, among other things, to “monitor online conversations and media coverage to identify ‘friends’ and critics,” launch a relationship-building program for US-based media contacts, and “host monthly client meetings.” “

It’s not uncommon for companies to help connect influencers with foreign governments, and Brian Lanza, the former communications director for former US President Donald Trump’s transition team, says these kinds of partnerships between governments and celebrities are becoming more frequent.

And he added: “You can not ignore the effect of money. Celebrities these days will make more money to promote a foreign government than to make a movie.”

In turn, see Ben Freeman, a scholar at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Government. “I think the campaigns (led by PR firms and celebrities) are a big part of why Biden was able to make this journey.”

“It became possible because of companies like Edelman and other people working for the Saudis,” he explained.

‘Changing attitudes’

The contract Edelman signed with the Saudi government underscores the changing attitudes of US companies towards Saudi Arabia. to represent the non-governmental organization of the Muslim. World League, of which the kingdom is a “member”.

Asked why the company has changed its position, BGR spokesman Jeff Birnbaum replied that the MWL is an NGO and not part of the Saudi government, adding: “I have always been a supporter of religious tolerance and an opponent of religious extremism. “

He stressed that the agreement had nothing to do with Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

A number of other companies have also signed contracts with Saudi Arabia. Edelman also submitted documents to the Ministry of Justice, required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, earlier this month to do PR for a Riyadh-based advertising company working for the Saudi artificial intelligence agency. The value of the three-month contract is 779,973 riyal, or about $ 208,000.

In addition to targeting an audience in the United States, the Search Beyond campaign will target markets in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and other parts of the world, and. It seems that influencers and the use of social media will be an essential part of this effort.

As part of the campaign, the kingdom will create a physical influencer base, known as House Beyond, which will likely be broadcast from MTV.

The plan slides indicated that the company was already in the process of starting a partnership with the international art festival Art Basel for inclusion in the Search Beyond campaign, and that it could do the same with Coachella, Bonaro and the South West.

But Yun Liu, spokesman for Art Basel, said the organization “does not have any form of partnership established or under development with Edelman.” A MTV Entertainment spokesman said they were not involved in the project but declined to comment when asked if the company was willing to work with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Among other things, the company proposed that the Saudis become a partner of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the museum’s chief communications officer, Ken Wynne, said he was not aware of the company’s proposal, and did not respond when asked if the museum would accept the Saudi money.

The campaign proposes that Saudi Arabia develop partnerships with international celebrities and large institutions and seize opportunities that could lead to productions being filmed across the kingdom, although the plan indicated that there are some obstacles to improving its image, such as “lack to cultural diversity and respect for differences. “

In another area, Edelman modeled a graph of the global reputational risks facing Saudis, including: “women’s rights issues”, “human rights violations”, “conservative opinions” and “restriction of religious freedom and intolerance.”

A former employee of the company, who refused to be identified, indicated that the choice of celebrities such as actress Priyanka Chopper, who is characterized by feminist activism to enhance the Kingdom’s image, is likely to be strategic, and pointed out that the Kingdom was trying to win over a female audience amid years of criticism of its record on women’s rights. .

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