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Saudi Arabia embraces high-tech lobbying

Saudi Arabia is tapping politically connected digital image-makers amid escalating tensions with Iran.
A Saudi man explores a website on his laptop in Riyadh February 11, 2014. Syria's civil war has led to a new, greater threat of Islamist radicalism in Saudi Arabia that requires a more aggressive "war of ideology" on the Internet, says the man responsible for online monitoring in the kingdom. Remarks by the head of the Saudi Ideological Security Directorate (ISD) suggest that the unit, known for keeping tabs on liberal activists and women drivers as well as Islamist extremists, is turning its focus increasi

Saudi Arabia’s lobbying efforts are getting a high-tech boost from some of America’s most politically well-connected consulting firms amid growing tensions with Iran.

The kingdom’s main public relations firm, Qorvis, hired Republican digital outreach firm Targeted Victory for $40,000 per month in mid-March to help “provide strategic advice and digital consulting services for the promotion of and education on Saudi Arabia.” Targeted Victory will be paid another $15,000 per month for analysis of social media tracking data provided by San Francisco startup Zignal Labs.

Targeted Victory was co-founded by Zac Moffatt, digital director for the 2012 Romney for President Campaign, and former Republican National Committee official Michael Beach, and represents several high-profile Republican candidates and causes. Zignal Labs is the brainchild of Josh Ginsburg, former field director for the Romney campaign and before that political director for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In addition, the Saudi Embassy in Washington has just retained California-based international law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman for another $15,000 per month to provide “legislative advice” and “public policy representation” before Congress and the Obama administration.

The new contracts are among several recent changes to Middle Eastern nations’ efforts to influence the US government, according to an Al-Monitor review of lobbying disclosure reports available as of early April. Taken together, they indicate a stepped-up desire to get through to key US decision-makers as the region experiences a radical upheaval.

Click above to view updates

Iraq in particular has stepped up its outreach to the officials in charge of the fight against the Islamic State, notably special presidential envoy John Allen. And the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee is still pushing two Iran bills that the Obama administration has warned could derail the nuclear talks.

Riyadh’s hiring binge comes as disagreements over Iran have caused the deepest strains to US-Saudi ties since the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Saudis are notably leading a pan-Arab coalition to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen amid a deep reluctance by President Barack Obama to get involved, and have warned that they will pursue a nuclear program to match whatever Iran is allowed in the ongoing international talks.

See Al-Monitor’s lobbying series for the following updates:

  • Bahrain: Lobbying update for DLA Piper
  • Egypt: Ministry of Tourism hires Hill and Knowlton Strategies; lobbying update for Glover Park Group
  • Iraq: Lobbying update for Podesta Group
  • Israel: Lobbying updates for AIPAC, AIEF, Arnold & Porter and Sidley Austin
  • Jordan: Lobbying updates for Vivien Ravdin and DLA Piper
  • Kurdistan Regional Government: Lobbying updates for Squire Patton Boggs, KRG Liaison Office and Congressional Kurdish-American Caucus
  • Lebanon: Lobbying update for DLA Piper
  • Libya: New entry for Sanitas International; lobbying updates for Squire Patton Boggs and Ben Barnes Group
  • Morocco: Lobbying updates for Mayer Brown, LeClairRyan and Western Hemisphere Strategies
  • Qatar: New entry for Gallagher Group; update for Squire Patton Boggs
  • Saudi Arabia: New entries for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Targeted Victory; lobbying update for Squire Patton Boggs
  • Turkey: Lobbying updates for Gephardt Group, Alpaytac, Dickstein Shapiro, LB International Solutions and Brian Forni
  • United Arab Emirates: Lobbying updates for Akin Gump, DLA Piper and Karv Communications

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