The Saudi regime doesn’t reign alone – a global network enables it.

Blog note. I have posted many previous blogs and third-party written articles about the rise of NEOM (Babylon) in Saudi Arabia. NEOM was specifically mentioned in this particular article, as it was alluded to since it is part of Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to modernize Saudi Arabia. If you have not read any of my previous blogs or articles, NEOM is the world’s largest planned city (in terms of square miles or kilometers) in a corner of the country flanked by the Sea of Aqaba and the Red Sed. This visionary city or Babylon-in-the-desert is so grand in planned design that it can’t be described in just one article. Hence, I have included a detailed analysis in previous, sequential blogs. You can research this development yourself. The “great city” as described in the Bible’s book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ receives a very large portion of prophetic / eschatological attention. NEOM, in Saudi Arabia, meets every description of Babylon described in Revelation. It has seven mountains, it will accept all religions of the world, it has extreme wealth and technology, it is a world class city that will attract all nations, tribes, tongues, nationalities, it will feature a “delicious” lifestyle based on extremely attractive living conditions and wealth. Any reference to Jesus Christ is completely missing or absent. Proselytizing (attempts to convert someone from one religion to another) is strictly prohibited. The businessmen who trade with and help build NEOM will become fabulously wealthy. The world’s largest sovereign wealth/investment fund is being established ($2 Trillion) to fund NEOM’s launch and growth.  As previously stated, there is a wealth of evidence to support the startup and growth of NEOM as being the “fabled” city of the future as described in Revelation. When is all this supposed to start? Bin Salman has gone on record indicating 2020. That is a short sixteen (16) months away. If you have read some of my recent blogs, you will quickly recall that there are several other “ominous” events planned to be enforced worldwide in 2020 that coincide with the establishment of NEOM in Saudi Arabia. Babylon is NEOM, not Rome, not Vatican City, not Mecca. End of note.

Note: Mohammed Bin Salman would be the ruler of NEOM Babylon. End of Note.

The Saudi regime doesn’t reign alone – a global network enables it.

Overseas lobbyists, PRs and hefty investment ensure the Saudi government achieves its aims abroad as well as at home

Thu 25 Oct 2018 09.50 EDT. Nesrine Malik. The Guardian.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a network of enablers to empower a tyrant. While domestically the Saudi government’s capital is fear, abroad it is cash and the influence it brings. Not content with Khashoggi’s murder, Mohammed bin Salman dragged one of the journalist’s sons before the cameras to set up some good optics for the royal family. With new details of his father’s brutal death and dismemberment reaching his ears daily, it is hard to imagine what kind of pressure, what kind of threat, compelled him to shake the hands of his father’s murderers.

But over the last three weeks, it is not just Bin Salman’s ruthlessness that has come fully to light – it is also his extended lattice of external courtesans, who have lobbied for him, polished his image, turned in thought criminals and covered his tracks.

There are the lobbyists who slickly blend in to spheres of influence, working for neutral-sounding “thinktanks”, where they are “fellows” and “researchers”. One of their most dedicated, who has, even in the mire of recent events, managed to find something for which to praise the Saudi royal family, is Ali Shihabi. An ex-banker and novelist, he heads the Arabia Foundation, a thinktank that is basically a lobby group that promotes brand Saudi in the United States. Shihabi thinks prison in Saudi Arabia is “quite benign” compared to the “dungeons of the Middle East”, and that MBS has “balls”, but is still young and needs guidance.

There are the public relations companies that prepare press releases, place advertising and work hand in glove with the lobbyists, offering them up for interviews and panel discussions. Four years ago, a London-based PR company approached me with an offer of access to Saudi interviewees on the back of a Saudi campaign to window-dress its human rights record. They offered up a Saudi minister and Dr Abdulaziz Sager, “chair of the Gulf Research Center, an independent thinktank ranked second in the Middle East by the Global Go-to-Think Tanks Index Report”, and a “member on the advisory board of the Arab Thought Foundation”. The Guardian did, in the end, publish my opinion on the effort, which called it a rebrand that “is fooling no one”. This paper did not take up the offers to interview the Saudi representatives, but for the rest of that week they were on BBC Newsnight and CNN’s Amanpour.

Then there are the management consultants who prepare what appear to be anodyne reports, which are in fact used to silence dissent. Last week the New York Times reported that a report by McKinsey had identified negative responses on social media to Saudi government economic policies and some of the critics identified were then arrested. McKinsey is, of course, “horrified”, unable to believe or anticipate that a report that covered social media criticism of a regime with a poor human rights record could be misused. In a statement on 20 October, McKinsey said: it would “never engage” in work targeting individuals based on their views; the report was not prepared for any government entity; “the intended primary audience” was internal; and McKinsey was “urgently investigating” how and with whom the document was shared.

Last but not least, there are the “thought leaders”. Some, such as the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, have a talent for being consistently proved wrong by history, yet still plough on with no reflection or apology. He claimed MBS was leading an Arab spring “from the top down”, and that the crown prince is someone who has “the balls” (this, for some reason, is a recurring theme among MBS cheerleaders). Friedman’s reward is access, a seat at the royal table, a position as courtly advisor to a well-intentioned but young and impressionable prince – an influencer of policy and events, a saviour of the Arab world. Daniel Drezner, author of The Ideas Industry, observes that journalists such as Friedman are little more than stenographers. “It is flattering” to Friedman that “as a mere scribbler, a world leader is devoting time and attention to what you think. The desire to cultivate a new connection can lead one to transcribe more than analyse.”

It’s not only political impunity that empowers a regime like the Saudi one: it is also the knowledge that any crime can be covered up if enough money is thrown at it.

Is it any wonder, then, that the whole Khashoggi operation was conducted with such staggering incompetence. A macabre Four Lions crew of assassins used their real names and passports, left a CCTV trail across the city, and tried to use a body double with a fake beard and the wrong shoes. To become accustomed to a world where no action begets consequence, where the Saudi royal family is not only a sovereign at home but a sort of super-sovereign globally, is to become lazy. If there is nothing that cannot be purchased, via arms deals, lucrative lobbying and PR contracts and hefty investments in private businesses, there will inevitably come a point when even a human life has a price.

  • This article was amended on 26 October 2018 to take account of the McKinsey statement that it was “never commissioned by any authority in Saudi Arabia” to prepare a report to identify critics.
  • Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist

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