With an already outsized influence over the United States, Saudi Arabia is spending millions to bolster its image in Washington.
Despite repeated calls from the United Nations and human rights groups like Amnesty International and Reprieve, Saudi Arabia still plans to execute Ali Mohammed al-Nimr for participating in anti-government protests when he was a minor.
While the international community has condemned Riyadh’s insistence on crucifying the young man, the United States has remained noticeably silent on the issue.
This is, in large part, because the United States is hesitant to criticize one of its major allies in the Middle East, no matter how deplorable that country’s human rights record is. But Saudi Arabia also has a powerful lobbying network in Washington which insures Riyadh is presented favorably before US lawmakers.
And in recent months, as al-Nimr’s death approaches, the Kingdom has spent even more on US lobbying firms and public relations experts.
In September, foreign lobbying disclosure documents show that the Saudi government signed deals with Edelman. The largest privately owned public relations firm in the world, Edelman has worked for a number of high-profile clients. The company has operated front companies for the American Petroleum Institute to help manage perceived environmental damage created by the oil industry, according to the New Yorker.
According to the contract, Edelman will “engage with opinion influencers, establish media engagement opportunities for principal, and assist in opinion editorial placement,” on behalf of the Saudi government.
The same month, Riyadh also hired Podesta Group, whose founder, Tony Podesta, also organized fundraising efforts for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“It is our company policy not to comment further on our work for clients beyond what is required by law and to direct reporters and other interested parties to our clients for any additional information,” Missi Tessier, a spokesperson for the Podesta Group, told the Intercept.
In March, the Saudi Embassy retained four other US firms. DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman both specialize in lobbying, partly through hiring former US government officials. Targeted Victory and Zignal Labs both analyze data for clients.
Of course, all of these new contracts are only additions to Riyadh’s already extensive network of influence. A number of American political organizations, including the Atlantic Council, receive large donations from the Saudi government, as well as major nonprofits like the Clinton Foundation.
According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia has executed over 175 people in the last 12 months, roughly one person every two days. Last Monday, the Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed over 100 people in a Yemen wedding party. But as long Saudi money continues to pour into Washington, the US, it seems, will continue to look the other way.