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MBS hires German PR firm to polish his image

Portraits of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazziz (R) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) are seen on 18 October 2018 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images]
Portraits of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazziz (R) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) are seen on 18 October 2018 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images]

A German consultancy firm with access to senior officials in the country has been employed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to improve the kingdom’s image. For years, the Saudi leadership has spent large sums on lobbyists in the West and this weekend a German newspaper revealed that that the Crown Prince, known as MBS, is working with a Berlin based consulting firm to shape Germany’s impression of the 33-year-old.

Details of the agreement between MBS and the PR firm were discovered by German sources and reported in the Arab media. German Sunday newspaper, Welt am Sonntag reported that Saudi Crown Prince “has been working with WMP since 2015 to prevent the spread of negative views in Germany about the royal family.”

Saudi royals are reported to have concluded an agreement worth hundreds of thousands of euros a month with the company, to polish its image and get access to prominent figures in the press, politics and sports in Germany. Several German newspapers are said to have carried positive stories of the kingdom following meetings arranged by the PR firms working on behalf of MBS.

German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed that the PR companies contacted government officials, parliamentarians and journalists on behalf of their clients. Some of the deputies and senators even received money from the lobbyists for their election campaigns.

READ: UK paper joins Saudi media group to launch Middle East news sites

The source also reported that WMP, which specialises in “strategic communications in the digital age” according to its profile on the news site website, offered access to the Chancellor’s office, the foreign and security policy advisor and the leading economic consultant as well as to the education and cultural ministries of the 16 federal states. The Chancellery is reported to have confirmed to German sources that there had been occasional meetings since 2016 between representatives of the Federal Chancellery and persons working for WMP on behalf of MBS.

Tracing the history of Saudi PR offensive in Germany Der Spiegel noted that it began after the attacks on September 11, 2001 in the US. Because 15 of the 19 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden also came from a wealthy Saudi family, the kingdom recognised that it had an image problem.

US President Donald Trump protects the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman [Twitter]

US President Donald Trump protects the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman [Twitter]

In order to rebuild their image in Washington, the Saudis are said to have spent about $100 million in the decade following the terrorist attacks. Since 2017 lobbying has tripled and according to US media reports, cited by Der Spiegel, the Saudis built their reputation in Washington at a cost of almost $27 million over a short period of time.

Following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, several PR companies in the US have terminated their contracts with Saudi Arabia, however WMP has continued to work for the Saudi royal family.

READ: Bin Salman asked for Khashoggi’s fingers to be brought to Riyadh

Saudi Arabia faces a major international crisis since it admitted on 19 October that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after 17 days of denial. Germany reacted to the killing by cancelling its arms exports to Riyadh, while also calling on other EU countries to follow its example.

What happened to Khashoggi provoked a global outcry against the kingdom, with universal demands to locate the body and to hold perpetrators accountable, especially those who ordered the crime. Last week, the CIA said it had concluded that “the killing of Khashoggi was a direct order from Bin Salman.”

But US President Donald Trump, who has close ties to Riyadh, rebuffed the CIA report and vowed to continue normal relations with MBS.

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